Even oil companies support a carbon tax

We need solid frameworks to guide public behaviour and attitudes towards the environment


Tomorrow, global leaders in Bonn will be presented with the preliminary findings of a massive survey by the French government which asked 10,000 people from 79 countries about their views on climate change.

The G7 group of industrial nations are gathered in Germany to discuss global economy and security. Yesterday they announced a pledge to phase out fossil fuel completely by the end of the century.

While concrete plans are welcome, campaigners have expressed concern that action is not happening fast enough. Friends of the Earth said:

“Putting off action until the end of the century will have a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the developing world.”

Ahead of the UN climate summit due to take place in Paris this winter, the French government funded the Worldwide Views on Climate and Energy survey, and it shows that the public are also likely to think the new plans unambitious.

Nearly 79 per cent said they were very worried about climate change, with almost 71 per cent saying that UN climate talks have failed to do enough to tackle climate change since 1992.

There are two significant findings of the poll. The first is that 80 per cent of respondents said they wanted their country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions even if other countries are not doing the same. There is a lesson for the Conservatives here. In 2013 Energy minister Michael Fallon said:

“We shouldn’t put British industry at a disadvantage against Europe and the US: for our manufacturers this would be assisted suicide.”

Fallon argued at the time that Labour’s pledge to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 – would ‘threaten our recovery’. The Tories have always been excessively concerned with what other countries are doing, rather than what the UK is doing (though not, it should be noted, when it comes to outsourcing manufacturing emissions from China and Africa and then omitting them from official data).

Sometimes the Conservatives claim to be leading on climate change; at others they hide behind what the rest of the world is doing, reluctant to make any move in case others don’t follow through. Meanwhile they are cutting subsidies for onshore wind, and providing tax breaks for North Sea oil.

The other significant finding from the poll was widespread support for a carbon tax.

When asked how the world should tackle climate change, 87 per cent of people said they would support some form of carbon tax. More than half of respondents also supported governments providing subsidies for renewable energy, such as wind and solar power and geothermal energy, as a way of delivering large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Support for a carbon tax has been gathering pace recently. Last week, six large European energy firms (including BP and Shell) wrote to the Paris chair Laurent Fabius calling for one:

“If governments act to price carbon, this discourages high carbon options and encourages the most efficient ways of reducing emissions widely, including reduced demand for the most carbon intensive fossil fuels, greater energy efficiency, the use of natural gas in place of coal, increased investment in carbon capture and storage, renewable energy, smart buildings and grids, off-grid access to energy, cleaner and new mobility business models and behaviours.”

They described carbon tax as a pragmatic, deliverable solution that they would happily cooperate with. It would be relatively easy to administer and the money could be used to invest in renewables, and the poll suggests it would also be popular with the public.

Admittedly, the caveat here is that you can’t always take people’s opinions about climate change at face value. The phenomenon of ‘nimbyism‘ around renewables has been well documented.

Oliver Burkeman wrote an excellent, if depressing, piece for the Guardian yesterday where he talked about the fundamental detachment from the issue even among people who would consider themselves environmentally conscious, the reluctance to make any absolute changes (he gave the example of people feeling so good about their dedicated recycling that thay treat themselves to a long-haul flight).

It is an inevitable flaw of the human mind, Burkeman says, that we are not willing to make small sacrifices now to prevent ultimate ones in the future. This is why we need solid government guidance and appropriate fiscal adjustments more than ever. The only way to overcome this flaw is by making it cheaper to be green; as the signatories of last week’s letter put it:

“For us to do more, we need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term,ambitious policy frameworks. This would reduce uncertainty and help stimulate investments in the right low carbon technologies and the right resources at the right pace.”

Sadly, David Cameron is set to increase uncertainty around green technology when he cuts off wind farms, which an analysis by the EU found to be the cheapest energy source.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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