Jenny Jones: The G7 needs to work towards an international carbon tax

'The top four oil companies alone have made more than $2 trillion in profit since 1990.'

Making polluters pay for emissions would shift the way the market calculates the profits of climate damaging industries and behaviours. From manufacturing to packaging and transport, it would speed the phase out of the things our planet can’t afford.

That is why I went to the Treasury, to remind the government of the total emissions the UK has contributed over the last year and call for the government to make the big oil/gas polluters pay what’s due, which includes clean up costs. 

We need the G7 to put in place the structure that would allow a carbon tax to function at an international level. This would ensure that tax is paid by the producers of fossil fuels and applied at the point of extraction or import. The big producers of oil and gas have made massive profits from pouring greenhouse gases into the world’s atmosphere – the top four oil companies alone have made more than $2 trillion in profit since 1990.

The timescales for cutting fossil fuel usage grow shorter with every new batch of data about droughts, abnormal weather events and melting glaciers. Yet we know that as long as fossil fuels are cheap, people will burn them.  

We need the G7 leaders to commit to making major polluters pay for the planet damaging emissions they emit. The tax would raise an estimated £80bn for the UK government alone. That money could fund a Green New Deal and the big changes for a rapid transition to a zero carbon economy. It will also enable the government to support those who need to retrain and switch jobs as polluting activities and carbon based products come to their inevitable end.

That is a key message of this approach. Some jobs are damaging jobs and they will have to end, or be done in a better way. It is going to happen anyway as the climate emergency accelerates and the impact of the crisis we are in begins to really bite. Better to start now by helping people and entrepreneurs make that switch by cushioning the transformation of industries and the rapid growth of new zero carbon ones. After the last two years of targeted government support due to Covid, this is not such a massive leap.  

It would be the kind of bold move from the G7 that matches the scale of the problem. Even now figures from the insurance industry and the Royal Society of Physicians indicate that the combined costs of flood and storm damage, together with the effects of air pollution from fossil fuels, added up to more than £23 billion for the UK alone. The figure for the world as a whole is estimated at more than £2 trillion.

Success would bring about a rapid reduction in the tax take as the polluters simply stop polluting. I admit that it wouldn’t stop blatant hypocrites like Boris Johnson from taking a flight to Cornwall to discuss climate change with the G7 summit instead of of the train, but it would do something to even out the relative costs of rail and plane on such domestic trips (aviation fuel pays no tax at the moment). 

To deal with the likes of our PM and his rich list of friends you would need an Environment Bill that had more direct regulation and rigorous enforcement. Something the Lords will be trying to ensure with dozens of amendments in the coming weeks.

Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords

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