Climate Change: Who pays?

Thoughts on BBC Radio 4’s debate ‘The Global Philosopher’.

BBC News Summary.
Click here to listen to the debate.

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As the human race burns through more oil fields and woodlands, polluting the ocean, dumping waste and flooding inhabited land, it makes sense to ask the question: ‘who pays for climate change?’

For too long, leaders of the worst emitting countries have avoided answering this question. They have done so because they fear being financially worse off if they did. At first, it makes sense to suggest that the countries polluting the most can afford to pay for the damage they make. After all, more pollutants in the skies must mean greater production of goods and services – right?

Wrong.

Climate change is a social issue and should not be view through a nationalist lens. As one Canadian contributor to the programme said, ‘who are the largest emitters? Those are companies, those are co-operations, they are not countries.’ A nationalist response to climate change is limited to a carbon tax on companies. Although a carbon tax has its merits, it only works on the basis that ALL governments support and enforce it. If one country introduces a tax of say $20 per tonne of CO2, then a large multi-national cooperation will just relocate their headquarters to another country where the tax is lower or even non-existent.

Even if an international tax level is agreed, this also poses some difficulties. The world’s economies are at different stages of development, some more dependent than others on oil, coal and gas as a cheap means of production. This is no better than the current unfair share of the burden. The poorest still pay.

But to dismiss a loose carbon tax does not mean to diminish the role of governments in regulating carbon pollutants and sanctioning against those that are responsible for a disproportionate segment of carbon emissions.

In 2011, the US Federal Court heard the ‘American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut’ case. It was the first time that an American company was being sued on a ‘public nuisance’ claim. The state argued that American Electric had irreversibly damaged the environment and although the company did not contest this accusation, it did question why the case was being heard by the Supreme Court.

American Electric won on a judgement of 8-0 and although the legal situation is currently in favor of emitters, more cases like this are making appearances in court.

Carbon Trading
Carbon trading – or ‘Cap and Trade’ is worth an estimated $3 Tn to the market. The system sets an international cap on CO2 emissions, meaning that in theory, the rate of carbon emissions does not widen year on year. Companies are allocated a certain number of ‘credits’ based on their size and carbon output. These credits act as tokens or licences which stipulate the levels at which companies can legally pollute the Earth’s atmosphere. ‘Greener’ companies are able to sell off their credits to wealthier nations hat want to exceed their designated carbon limits.

Because we want to lower the global carbon output, the number of carbon credits released each year is reduced, pushing up the value of one credit.

Here’s the problem.

If Carbon Trading is released into the market, private companies, banks and wealthy individuals are able to make billions off the back of the system. A better solution is to effectively ‘nationalize’ the cap and trade system, allowing governments to funnel profits into renewable energy development or dividends for families on the cost of fuel and gas during the transition to a greener economy.

Only under this scheme is the cost of climate change evenly shared. In addition to this, green energy projects can receive billions of pounds worth of new investment, increasing the rate at which companies and households reject fossil fuels in industry and their daily lives.

As it exists, the carbon trading limit is set too high. This allows European businesses to buy credits from India and China. It is then possible for large coal-powered electricity generators to be built within Europe itself, thus failing to address the problem.

Graph of CO2 concentration

Source: BBC News

Why is this so important?
In May 2013, atmospheric CO2 reached a record 400 parts per million. Safe levels are estimated at 350 parts, significantly lower than first thought. Considering 450 parts per million is the threshold upon which the Earth becomes free of ice, the current cap and trade system has clearly failed.
The Carbon Tax
Another option is a tax on carbon production. However, unlike cap-and-trade, a carbon tax does not guarantee a real-term annual fall in carbon emissions. Companies are merely taxed on the carbon they produce but are not tied to any form of restrictive cap.
The most publicised attempt at a ‘carbon tax’ was under Julia Gillard’s Australian government. The tax was a measure taken to ensure Australia reached its emissions target of -5% and at first, the results were promising.
In the first year 2012-13, the new tax was set at a rate of $23.00AUD per tonne and increased slightly to $24.15AUD the following year. Although it succeeded in cutting carbon output by 0.8% in its first year, an unstable political situation resulted in its repeal on 17th July 2014.
The government’s Department of the Environment website explains why the tax was abandoned:

“Abolishing the carbon tax will lower costs for Australian businesses and ease cost of living pressures for households.” 

This explanation is important in answering the question of ‘who pays for climate change?’ The incoming Abbott administration had adopted the mantra that short-term business growth overruled long-term environmental sustainability.

This is our problem. Short-term plans.

In repealing the tax, Mr Abbott had no intention of replacing it with a viable alternative. If the then-Prime Minister had been asked ‘who pays?’, his answered would have been ‘NOT BUSINESSES. NOT POLLUTERS’.  Here, Mr Abbott and the US Supreme Court are in agreement.

So what’s the best plan?
Nationalize the carbon market:

  • Rather than sell additional credits to companies that exceed their legal limits, the government should issue additional credits at a fixed price.
  • The government should also subtract the value of these additional credits from the total number of credits a company receives over the next five years.
  • Credits should no longer be transferable from one company to another.
  • All treasury receipts from a ‘state’ carbon market should fund new PUBLIC environmental projects and subsidize the cost of renewable energy at market.

For example:

Year 0 Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Credits Over 6 Years
Set Credit Targets 120 100 80 60 40 20 420
Credit Limits (after borrowing) 130
(+10)
98
(-2)
78
(-2)
58
(-2)
38
(-2)
18
(-2)
420

This way, large-scale public environmental projects are guaranteed funding and carbon costs are not passed on from businesses to their consumers.

Free-market economists may ask ‘where’s the incentive?’ Why should there be a financial incentive when the most significant stimulus already exists – the chance to save the planet?

Austerity in Evesham – article for Mid Worcestershire Labour Party website

Mid Worcestershire CLP

Click here to view the article

“Employment does not lift households out of poverty. Inhumane benefit sanctions, cuts in public spending and unaffordable housing are responsible for this human crisis. Poverty exposes a problem with our dysfunctional economic system. We can end poverty by reshaping the system.”

Poverty in Worcestershire: Getting to know your county

In 2008, the Campaign to End Child Poverty found that 30% of children were living in low-income households in the Mid-Worcestershire constituency. In Worcester,this figure was 38%. Generally, the West Midlands was one of the worst regions for child child poverty – with some nearby local constituencies experiencing poverty levels between 75 – >80%. (BBC News)

Nationally, there were 3.5 million children living in poverty in 2014-15. This accounts for 9 children in a classroom of 30 pupils. (cpag.org.uk)
Work does not lift families out of poverty. Two-thirds of children live in a working household.

Britain (now) has the 7th largest economy in the world and yet 4 Million children and adults cannot afford to feed themselves properly.
Poorer members of society are more likely to become dependent on the public health service, adding pressure to an already overstretched NHS.
Poor health also restricts a person’s ability to live an independent life and pursue a career, lowering their self-confidence.

This is not right.

Want to do something about this? Write to your MP, volunteer, donate and campaign. Poverty exists within every community, but so does the desire to eradicate it from the face of the Earth.

Brexit is bad enough. Negotiations are worse.

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is one of the most important decisions since the end of the Second World War. But leaving is not the dangerous part. Instead, it’s the negotiations.

The results are in, the vote is over and ‘Brexit’ is a reality. Britain has chosen to reject nearly a century of European progress to supplement its rather vain approach to politics. Our xenophobic, patriotic and thuggish personality has prevailed over one of good diplomacy, respect and solidarity. We have become a selfish and cruel nation and deserve little sympathy from our continental neighbours.

For the next few months, ministers will meet with European Commissioners, leaders and presidents to debate Article 50. These meetings will decide Britain’s future relationship with Europe and what kind of small, self-obsessed island we will be living in by the end of it. Johnson and Gove have spoken of these negotiations as a chance to show our patriotism and national pride. Our demands will be shot down and so they should be. If this is what independence feels like, it’s not all its hyped up to be.

Unfortunately, these negotiations are Tory-led and the Tory Party’s dangerous economic tendencies are likely to shine through. If so, we – as workers, business owners, investors and as a wider society – are doomed. Nothing can protect us from the hammer of Conservatism which will seek to beat out the NHS, nationalised industry, free education and science, industries which are only alive today due to the European Union.

The EU protects workers’ rights by providing guaranteed parental leave, holidays and workplace standards. These rights are outlined in the European Convention of Human Rights, a document written by British lawmakers in collaboration with other European politicians. Throughout the referendum campaign, Johnson, Gove and Farage have refused to outline how they will protect our workers’ rights if ‘Leave’ won.

This is no accident.

Both Gove and Johnson believe in a small-state society with low-regulation economy. Brexit negotiations are their chance to reshape these laws behind closed doors. For months, the two men have talked about ‘taking back control’. They never stated who they would give this power to. Now we know.

Like me, you may be reeling from Britain’s decision. You may also feel embarrassed to be British. You are right to feel that way. But mourning our loss does nothing. Our job is to keep an eye on these negotiations, to protest, comment and advise.

Power now lies with the British political elite. If you really want to ‘take back control’, then for Britain’s sake, it’s time we grabbed Johnson’s newfound power from his clutches. First, by refusing him the Tory leadership and second, by voting OUT the destructive, overly-patriotic and self-serving Conservative govenrment from office.

Why YOU should vote to keep in Europe

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Although some of the out campaigners have made some valid points about the European Union’s faults, there is certainly an underlying xenophobic and heavily anti-immigrant anger sweeping British society. Supporters of ‘leave’ or ‘Brexiteers’ as they have so irritatingly become named, use phrases such as ‘taking back sovereignty’ and ‘Britain is unique’ and ‘we gave [Europe] Magna Carta’ to sell their argument.

Here’s why the OUT argument just doesn’t work.

Once David Cameron had declared the 23rd June as our referendum day, we became swamped with meaningless statistics. ‘5 out of 6 Britons think…’, ‘we save blah blah blah millions every year’ and so on.

How unbearably dull.

The case for Britain to leave the EU rests on three pillars. The first is sovereignty. Who makes the laws and why should Britain follow them? The second issue is control over immigration. How low should immigration into the UK be and how best can Britain control that number? Finally, there is that all important question of history. If we leave the EU, will 2016 be remembered as the year Britain was set free from the constraints of Brussels or is it the time that our country rejected its duty to unite the continent after centuries of war?

On 23rd June, the choice is yours.

Anti-Europeans make some rather crass statements that Brussel’s based ‘Eurocrats’ are ‘taking our money’ and reinvesting it in the UK, all under the name of what they call the ‘European Project’. What narrow thinking. The world of ‘them’ and ‘us’ does not exist anymore. How arrogant to think that the rest of Europe should be subservient to Britain’s needs, willing to obey and grovel for our sacred blessing. How can somebody have such a gross misunderstanding of the world around us and the real challenges Britain faces today?

Sadly, this referendum is not about the economy or society or improving the quality of life for millions of Europeans. Instead, it’s become an extension of Conservative infighting that has been going on behind closed doors for years. Our television screens have presented a depressing succession of white, middle-aged, wealthy, privately educated London-based men spouting insults at one another, fighting for power in Downing Street.

But on 23rd June, your ballot paper is not asking you to vote for either David Cameron or Boris Johnson or Conservative or Labour. Nor is this an effective Conservative leadership election. In voting leave, don’t think you’re voting AGAINST Cameron. If you do that then you lose. It’s simple.

Alongside the usual anti-immigrant message, leaders of the leave campaign have highlighted some of the ridiculous aspects of life as a member of the EU. These aspects include salaries of advisors, the number of commissioners which are appointed and the amount of money spent on limousines, taxis and benefits for MEPs themselves. Here, the leave campaign does have a point. The European Union has a long way to go before it becomes truly democratic. Do we really need so many advisors and commissioners? How about trimming down the number of lobby groups that can invade parliamentary buildings? Why not alter the way in which the EU budget is agreed? This would be a good start.

Since revealing his position as a leave supporter, Boris Johnson has paraded up and down the country in a red bus, preaching his sudden love of democracy. Alongside Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Boris has called for the transfer of power back from Brussels to Britain.

But who would we be transferring this power to?

In many ways, the European Union is more democratic than Britain. Yes, that’s right. Brussels is often more representative of Britain than Westminster. Why? Well when Boris Johnson talks about taking back power, a lot of this power currently rests in the hands of the European Parliament and its directly elected representatives called MEPs. One would expect that Boris would seize this power and push in into the hands of Westminster and the House of Lords, a larger body of politicians that comprises of entirely unelected peers who are even less representative of the general public.

But having power isn’t everything. What really matters is how influential Britain’s power is and how the UK can use its power to benefit everyone else in the world. Leaving Europe would only diminish our scope of influence. In that sense, voting OUT is counterproductive.

But then of course, Boris would say that Britain is bossed about by all the other twenty-seven members of the EU. Does Boris know that Britain has the third highest number of MEPs in the European Parliament? Is he aware that because Britain chose to reject the single currency, much of European financial law does not apply to Britain and other European nation states that lie within the common market but outside the Eurozone?

I’m sure Boris would grow red faced and delve into deep thought, urging himself to come up with a valiant reason to reject Europe. ‘Ahh ha’, he would cry. If you’re under fifty-five years old, you’ve never had a vote on Europe. This is seems, is one of the reasons why we had a referendum in the first place.

But when did we ever have a referendum on joining NATO or the World Trade Organisation or the UN? And for Bojo to suggest that this vote is a ‘choice of a generation’ for our children and grandchildren is just utterly bizarre. The Conservative Party deliberately blocked sixteen and seventeen year olds from having a vote on their future. Johnson did not vote against the government on this issue. But that was back when he didn’t care about genuine public opinion. Of course now he is willing to puff his chest out and tell you how much he likes the electorate. He wants to tell you he’s a REAL man of the people.

Remember peace in Ireland

One often forgotten aspect of having to leave the European Union is the rebuilding of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

At present, both countries remain members of the EU. As well as being a key financial aid to the two states, the European Union has served as a good negotiator in forming peace between the two countries since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In fact, the cornerstone of the agreement is the European Convention on Human Rights, which came into effect the same year at Good Friday was signed.

If we leave the European Union, the Schengen Area would no longer extend into both countries, forcing both governments to enforce border controls for the first time since the end of the civil war. In other words, all that was gained in 1998 is lost as the two state could become physically divided once again.

‘Divorce is the only way to end a messy relationship’…

If in June Britain votes to leave, a negotiation process would kick into action. The process would aim to outline terms of separation. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has previously described these potential negotiations as a ‘divorce’ between two tired old allies.

What a lovely analogy.

But unlike a normal divorce, nobody (including the lawyers) knows what’s going on and the outcome isn’t guaranteed. Separation could take years and Britain as an instigator of separation is highly unlikely to get a sweet deal from its former spouse.

Voting to leave Europe is not a vote to leave economic uncertainty behind along with threats of terrorism and the ever worsening humanitarian crisis. If Britain became independent, the refugee crisis, financial recession and expansionist threats from Russia will not evaporate before the early morning of 24th. They will become a larger threat than ever.

So if you care about Britain’s economic security over the next few years, vote to remain. If you want a safer continent where intelligence can be shared more freely between member states for our physical security, then vote to remain. If you understand the true value of peace in Europe and respect how far our relationship with the continent has come over the last century, then you must vote to remain.

Whatever happens, the result will be everlasting.

Vote wisely. Vote for a Britain stronger in Europe.