McKibben, Klein, Greenpeace Call for Global Carbon Tax Now

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - While there can be no question that the agreement reached in Paris was historic, and by most measures successful, there were those that felt that without having implemented a global carbon tax, it fell short of the mark. These folks, whose numbers include Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo, did not waste any time to seize the moment to come out with a fresh call for a “carbon levy.”

The group, a loose,unnamed confederation of some 60 global climate action leaders, issued a statement that said, "The industry that is most responsible for climate change is the fossil fuel industry - responsible for roughly 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The fossil fuel industry is responsible not only for the majority of carbon emissions but also for the delay in dealing with the problem. They have known about climate change for decades, yet have funded climate denialists and have subverted political processes aimed at fighting the problem. International law - and basic fairness - say that the fossil fuel industry should pay for the loss and damage that their product is causing."

The group has pledged to introduce a levy that would raise money from fossil fuel extraction and use those funds to compensate “the people facing the worst impacts of climate change.” The Paris agreement included language on loss and damage, but did not establish direct liability.

James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who was among the first to sound the alarm on climate change back in 1988, also had disparaging words about the agreement, calling it, “just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

It’s true that the plummeting price of oil is not helping matters any, even as the cost of solar and other renewables continue to drop. Still, growth in renewables continues to be strong and with the extension of investment tax credits in the latest budget, that growth should continue.

While the UN process focused on distinctions between developed and developing countries, arguing that developed countries had benefited most from the fossil fuels, the result of which was now threatening the planet, this group is focused more on the industry, which they consider responsible.

While many including myself,  have argued for some form of carbon tax as the most effective way to expedite the transition away from fossil fuels; the language in this statement contains a more punitive tone, choosing the stick rather than the carrot.

While many begrudge the fossil fuel industry their enormous profits and the irresponsible self-serving behavior of some companies in particular, at the end of the day, they have provided a product that we’ve been happy to buy, and they were not the only ones to have benefited from its availability. Yes, there have been injustices and they should be addressed, but the far more urgent matter is to take aggressive action on reducing emissions.

According to an analysis from the Post Carbon Institute, we have less than 19 years left before we hit the tipping point. If we don’t dramatically lower emissions we could blast through that point, plunging into an uncharted climate that scientists say could likely prove treacherous to life as we know it.

Julie Anne Richards is the international Policy Manager of the Climate Justice Programme, an Australian climate group that launched the Carbon Levy Project, which proposes that the oil, gas and coal industry should fund the loss and damage mechanism included in the COP21 agreement. According to a 2013 study authored by Richards entitled, “The Carbon Majors,” a mere 90 companies account for 63% of the carbon going into the atmosphere. Says Richards, “It’s time to make them pay for their climate damage.”

The Paris accord does contain language that leaves open the prospect of a carbon pricing mechanism, though it does not explicitly establish one. It’s not clear whether framing an effort to establish one in this kind of punitive language will help gather support for the levy or not. It’s worth noting that a number of countries have already enacted carbon taxes including: Ireland, Australia (repealed), Chile, Sweden, Finland, Great Britain, New Zealand (changed to emissions trading), parts of Canada, and the City of Boulder Colorado, without resorting to a punitive approach. It would also seem that the six major oil companies that have already come out in support of a carbon tax, would prefer to see themselves as contributors to the solution rather than scapegoats for the problem. Perhaps the best case scenario would be for all parties to pull together to solve this problem.

Image credit: Nick Taylor Flickr Creative Commons