11 December 2011

Make the Rich Pay for their Emissions

An excellent funding programme from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into the social impacts of policies to address climate change is beginning to bear fruit. They have created a microsite to make the findings available.

As well as the more conventional investigations into the impact on poorer households of rises in energy bills, a research team based in Bristol and Oxford has produced data about how responsibility for CO2 emissions is shared across the socio-economic classes. Put more bluntly, to what extent can we blame the rich for climate change as well as for inequality?

The primary finding is that:

'Mean average CO2 emissions are strongly correlated with income: households within the highest equivalised income decile have mean total CO2 emissions more than twice that of households within the lowest equivalised income decile. Emissions from private road travel and aviation account for a high proportion of this differential: aviation emissions of the highest income decile are more than six times that of the lowest income decile.'

In other words, the concerns that are often raised about alienating those who fly to Ibiza for a summer holiday by introducing aviation taxes are quite misplaced. It is the rich who jet around the world for conferences and business meetings who are most responsible for aviation-related CO2 emissions.

The figure represents mean annual emission of carbon dioxide from all sources across the income deciles. As we move from the lowest 10% to the wealthiest 10% there is a clear increase, class by class, in the amount of CO2 emissions that are produced. More importantly, a larger proportions of the emissions of the richer people in our society are transport related.

The policies implications are clear. Using household energy bills as the focus of increasing the cost of carbon is not only regressive but will also be ineffective:
'if household carbon reduction policies addressed all transport emissions as well as those from household fuel use, there would be far fewer low-income/high-carbon households, and policies which placed a cost on carbon itself would be likely to be more progressive.'

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