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Why we need to put a proper price on pollution

Hannah Dillon, Head of the Zero Carbon Campaign, explores the need for a ‘carbon charge’ and the impact it could have in the UK.

In recent weeks, the Western world has woken up to the devastating impacts of climate change. We have seen extreme flooding in Germany, a catastrophic heatwave in British Columbia, and the highest temperatures ever recorded in June in Finland and the United States. 2020 was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest year on record in the UK, with the UK Met office confirming that climate change is ‘already being felt’ across the nation. 

In spite of this - and the fact that ‘greenhouse gas emissions are already too high for a manageable future for humanity’ - the UK Government has yet to deliver a proper strategy for addressing climate change, and helping manage the impacts that global temperature rises are having. 

This is why we started the Zero Carbon Campaign, and why we’ve launched a petition calling for the Government to stop issuing fossil fuel subsidies - which currently total £10.5 billion per year - and start charging big polluters for the damage they do instead. 

How would a carbon charge work? 

A ‘carbon charge’ would make big polluters pay for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions that they produce. It would be charged ‘upstream’ (i.e at the point where emissions are produced), rather than ‘downstream’ (i.e as a total ‘carbon cost’ on products people buy). At a cost of £75 for every tonne of greenhouse gas produced, a UK carbon charge could raise up to £27 billion per year for the British economy by 2030. 

This could be invested in helping heavy industry decarbonise, and supporting households in moving away from high-carbon lifestyles - e.g. help buying electric vehicles, or installing heat pumps in their homes. We know that the British public wants to play a role in addressing the impacts of climate change, but we also understand that for many people this is not something that they can currently afford. 

Power plants with sunset

What impacts would it have? 

By attaching a cost to the production of greenhouse gas emissions, we will encourage big polluters to change their production processes so they cause less damage to the environment. It will signal to them that low-carbon investments are valuable today, and will be even more valuable tomorrow. 

It will also mean that we change the way products are priced by ensuring that the environmental impacts of producing that product are factored into its cost.

Ultimately, it will mean that we move away from an economy that requires you to pay a premium to live a sustainable lifestyle, towards one which values transparency, and ensures that ‘low carbon’ equates to ‘low cost’. This is something that 70% of the British public want to see happen. 

What does the UK carbon pricing landscape currently look like? 

Carbon pricing in the UK is sporadic and inconsistent. It only covers one third of the emissions that the UK produces, and pricing is not transparent or strong enough to drive the behaviour change required to reach net zero.

Price signals can and should do more to incentivise emissions reductions, not least in agriculture, on household heating and in aviation - which enjoys an implicit carbon subsidy. This has driven a dramatic increase in private jet use over the past decade, as a result of the lack of an effective carbon price on kerosene fuel. 

Why are we feeling so optimistic?

Whilst celebrities from Bob Geldof to Stephen Fry have celebrated the role that carbon pricing can play in driving down greenhouse gas production, we know that the UK Government won’t raise their ambition unless they believe that the public are on board. The good news is that we know that they are. 74% of those we surveyed want polluters to pay for the damage they do, and 67% think a carbon tax is a fair way to raise money. What’s more, 64% believe a carbon tax will be effective in driving down greenhouse gas emissions. 

And if what people say in petitions doesn’t do much to convince you, look no further than 11 year old Jude Walker for further evidence. He is currently walking 200 miles from Yorkshire to Westminster to support our petition, and to demand that the Government ‘walks the talk’ on climate change. He understands - more than most adults - that the time has come for urgent action, and that putting a price on pollution is a good way to start. 

What can you do? 

  • Sign the petition

You can show your support for the introduction of a UK carbon charge by signing The Zero Carbon Campaign’s petition to #PriceOutPollution. We need 100,000 signatures by 16th August 2021 for it to be debated in Parliament - sign here

  •  Follow Zero Carbon Campaign on social media and share our content

When enough of us stand together, people pay attention. Follow the Zero Carbon Campaign on social media and share the content far and wide: Twitter, and Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn