A recent survey has found that “emissions charges could be popular if revenues are given back to citizens.” Based on their findings, a commentary published on 16 January in Nature, Stefano Carattini from Georgia State University in the US in collaboration with Steffen Kallbekken and Anton Orlov from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) in Norway explores how to muster up public support for a global carbon tax.
A recent report published by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), a voluntary partnership launched in 2015 at COP21 in Paris, found that imposing carbon taxes on the highest emitters may be the best way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and met the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement ― “to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.” The idea is those emitting the most pay the most, which would promote cleaner, and potentially cheaper, energy.
The authors point out that many countries have already successfully introduced carbon taxes, including those in Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, and a number of other jurisdictions, including the European Union, have set up emissions-trading schemes. However, public support often poses the biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of carbon taxes, as the ‘yellow vest’ protests last year have highlighted. The recent eruption of protests in France was mainly triggered by a planned increase in petrol prices as part of France’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions.
To assess public attitudes towards a global carbon tax, 4,997 citizens were surveyed in five countries ― Australia, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the US. Each participant was presented with three different tax designs in line with recommendations by the World Bank-supported High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices: US$40, $60, and $80 per tonne of CO2. In addition, six spending options were proposed: climate mitigation projects, either domestic, in developing countries, or in all countries, a national or global per-capita dividend, and lowering domestic income taxes. Finally, the researchers simulated how each simulated how each new policy would impact the world economy by 2030.
The majority of those surveyed (< 50 per cent) favoured a global climate tax with revenues distributed either among citizens, for global mitigation efforts, or used to lower taxes. By far, most support was for global mitigation projects (65 per cent), therefore, the authors suggest an international climate fund could succeed if its revenues were allocated to all countries. Furthermore, they argue that agreements should be designed to leverage existing carbon-tax schemes within an international system of harmonized taxes.
The conclusion, “A global system of harmonized carbon taxes, in which countries retain control over the revenues. But one global tax might be accepted if the funds are distributed to all countries, rather than a few.” The authors also argue that increasing awareness of future benefits, such as lower emissions and possible rebates, could increase acceptance. Moreover, ‘progressive’ policies that target those able to pay are often more popular among the general public and gradually introducing taxes could be a more successful approach.
(1) Carattini, S., Kallbekken, S., and Anton Orlov. How to win public support for a global carbon tax. Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-00124-x