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Polly Toynbee on "personal carbon trading"

 
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Adam1



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 4:54 pm    Post subject: Polly Toynbee on "personal carbon trading" Reply with quote

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/16/carbonemissions.labour

Quote:
Awful August, the weather forecasters call this unseasonably cold, wet month, as holiday-makers huddle against intermittent monsoon downpours, reminded that global warming doesn't necessarily mean a Mediterranean Britain.

Every month, reports from climatologists deliver worse predictions of the speed and tipping points for irreversible climate change. A 4C temperature rise is the latest warning: it would bring unimaginable horror in its wake. The time to act gets shorter, but the political will to act lags ever further behind the science that tells politicians they must do so. Latest figures, including air travel, shipping and energy used in our goods manufactured abroad, show no cut in Britain but an 18% growth in emissions.

If the market is the answer, soaring energy prices should drive down emissions. Road traffic figures showed a 2% drop in car use, with demand for petrol briefly 20% down - but already it is rising again as the price falls. On household energy - responsible for 27% of emissions - it's too early to know the effect of 30% price increases. But as one hour of an old-fashioned lightbulb still only costs 0.8p, energy prices may not be noticed by those who already consume most. Those who will make serious cuts are the poorest and debt-averse pensioners. Official fuel poverty figures are expected to rise to 5 million people this winter: more deaths are expected among the old and cold. Back in Labour's optimistic can-do days in 2000, the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act created a legal obligation to eliminate fuel poverty among the vulnerable by 2010, a target missed by so many light years that Friends of the Earth is seeking a judicial review to get the act enforced. Gordon Brown's plan to buy off the problem with 100 vouchers for the poor is no answer.

What does the public think the answer should be? The Institute for Public Policy Research has just conducted the most extensive consultation so far, with focus groups in Newcastle, Camden, Southwark, Bristol and rural Suffolk across all social groups, as well as a nationwide opinion poll and interviews with energy companies, climate change NGOs and consumer organisations. The results pointed in one clear direction.

Seventy-four per cent said they are "very concerned" or "fairly concerned" about climate change - so politicians can ignore the shrinking, unconcerned minority. Seventy-one per cent thought action was necessary to curb people's energy use. But there was pessimism about the public changing its behaviour: only one in 10 thought people would drive less or take fewer flights. Naturally, favourite choices were the painless ones - the cheaper, environmentally friendly options. Least popular was any system that taxed energy use.

They were offered three possible government actions. First, a carbon tax could be added to all energy not generated from renewables. Second, a cap on the amount of carbon that companies could emit in selling their energy to consumers would force them to generate more from renewables: they would pass on the extra cost to consumers. But both of these were regarded as too unfair, with the impact felt least by the wealthy who burn most energy.

Personal carbon trading was the most popular option: it was the fairest and it wasn't seen as a new tax. Here's how it works: each year everyone gets equal carbon credits to spend on petrol, home heating or air travel. People exceeding their quota can buy more credits. People who use less can sell credits. It encourages home insulation, energy saving and less driving or flying. Since low earners use less - 20% have no car, 50% don't fly - they can profit by selling to those with big houses, foreign holidays and gas-guzzling cars. It would be a powerful but voluntary agent for redistribution.

Failure to pursue personal carbon trading (or any other method) joined the long list of good causes killed by Labour cowardice. At Defra, David Miliband took it up with enthusiasm and commissioned a feasibility study, but after he made a strong speech advocating it, Gordon Brown at the Treasury banned any further mention. Miliband was moved away and what was called a "pre-feasibility study", limped out with the judgment that this idea was "ahead of its time". They guessed it would cost 2bn a year to run, threw up sundry obstacles, and the report disappeared.

Odd that a government with computers thinks it can't introduce a simple credit system, when a Nectar or Oyster card shows how easily home and car fuel bills and airline tickets could be deducted. Historian Mark Roodhouse of York University draws comparisons with his work on wartime rationing. Back then the state provided ration books for all, covering not just fuel but coupons valuing virtually every individual item in the shops from clothes to food.

Have we become more administratively incompetent since then? Roodhouse records the wartime internal debates about whether to cut national consumption by raising prices. "They concluded rationing was the only way to achieve dramatic cuts without feeding inflation or causing social unrest," he reports. They, too, considered making ration coupons tradable but decided equality of sacrifice was essential. But Roodhouse considers tradable carbon rations "would improve on the system, preventing black markets in unused coupons". The trading element makes carbon rationing feel more voluntary and less oppressive.

In distribution of wealth, Britain is now back to 1937 levels of inequality, regressing backwards every year: that's what makes any kind of carbon tax or reliance on high prices impossible, the burden falling too unfairly. Doling out ad hoc energy vouchers to the poor at the taxpayers' expense is the wrong answer, and it only adds to the poverty trap by making the step up harder to climb. Will Brown at least pay for it with a windfall tax on profiteering energy companies? But if personal carbon trading is "ahead of its time", that is exactly where we need to be. Cowardly political leaders dare not tell voters the plain truth that we need to cut energy use. If Miliband makes his run for the leadership, plain speaking about the climate will be one of his pitches - and bravery on personal carbon trading will be a test of candidates' seriousness about both climate and social justice.

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Keepz



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PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:13 pm    Post subject: Re: Polly Toynbee on "personal carbon trading" Reply with quote

Not opposed to personal carbon allowances, but I think she is underestimating the difficulty. After all, if it was that great an idea and that simple to implement, wouldn't one expect some country somewhere to have adopted it already?

A few specific thoughts.

Adam1 wrote:
Latest figures, including air travel, shipping and energy used in our goods manufactured abroad, show no cut in Britain but an 18% growth in emissions.


Agree that maritime and aviation emissions ought to be counted - indeed, that's what the UK Government has been saying in EU and Kyoto discussions and that's why it commissioned the study which produced these figures. Counting "our goods manufactured abroad" is a bit more problematic, however.

Say you have a German-owned factory in China and an American-owned firm in the UK imports 10% of that factory's output, with the other 90% going to half a dozen different countries around the world. So by that logic, 10% of the emissions of that factory (who counts them?) should count against the UK's total emissions - or maybe the US'? Now suppose the Chinese government tightens Chinese environmental standards and the German factory owners invest German money accordingly, bringing the factory up to those standards so the factory's emissions reduce. Whose credit?

Quote:
Since low earners use less - 20% have no car, 50% don't fly - they can profit by selling to those with big houses, foreign holidays and gas-guzzling cars.


That's quite an assumption. Low earners are more likely to live in poorly insulated housing, drive fuel-inefficient old cars and not be able to afford to replace them, and not have access to convenient public transport (a lot of them are rural dwellers). I do not think it's at all self evident that the rich will need to buy carbon allowances from the poor. I certainly wouldn't; I live in a modern, well insulated flat with easy access to public transport and I'm out at work all day. I'd be more likely to be selling to a little old lady who needs additional carbon allowance to keep her draughty old home warm.

Quote:
They guessed it would cost 2bn a year to run, threw up sundry obstacles, and the report disappeared. Odd that a government with computers thinks it can't introduce a simple credit system, when a Nectar or Oyster card shows how easily home and car fuel bills and airline tickets could be deducted.


I very much doubt that 2bn/annum is a "guess". And if it does turn out to cost less than the Government's original estimate, that will be a first in the history of public administration!

I also suspect there is rather more to the glibly dismissed "sundry obstacles" than we are told here. The actual technology is the least of the worries. The fact that this would have to be compulsory, where Nectar and Oyster cards are voluntary and commercially profitable undertakings, is non-trivial in administrative terms - it means you need enforcement and compliance/anti-avoidance verification, which means more snoopers and more prying. Costs would be imposed on retailers - every petrol station, every travel agent would have to have specialised card-reading equipment. How are they to be compensated for that cost? What about data protection issues?

None of this is insuperable. But it is a lot to ask of a Government as demoralised, beleaguered and overstretched (for which it has nobody to blame but itself) as this one, particularly when it won't get any thanks from environmentalists (because nothing is ever even a quarter of the way good enough for them). One for a new Government, perhaps, or even for another country to pioneer.
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emordnilap



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PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the basic premises (and indeed great merits) of such a scheme was that it is not compulsory.
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Keepz



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PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

emordnilap wrote:
One of the basic premises (and indeed great merits) of such a scheme was that it is not compulsory.


Hmmm; like many Powerswitchers, you seem to have more faith in human nature and public spirit than have I. And you probably lead a far more pleasant and fulfilled life as a result Wink

Those who think they will end up as net sellers of allowances will certainly see advantages in participation, but what's in it for anyone who is likely to end up a net buyer? And it certainly won't work if there aren't any of them.

If folk want to give money to those less well-off than themselves, or to do their bit for the environment, or indeed to punish themselves for failure to do their bit for the environment, there are plenty of means already available to them. Surely this scheme only adds value if it reaches the parts that other beers cannot reach, ie brings in people who are not presently engaged and delivers action which is not presently being undertaken. Why would this scheme deliver that, if all the effort and funding is already being devoted to exhortation, grants, advice etc, isn't doing so?
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emordnilap



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PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Keepz wrote:
emordnilap wrote:
One of the basic premises (and indeed great merits) of such a scheme was that it is not compulsory.


Hmmm; like many Powerswitchers, you seem to have more faith in human nature and public spirit than have I. And you probably lead a far more pleasant and fulfilled life as a result Wink


No, I mean you don't have to carry the card - you buy your 'rations' as you go along. You can't opt out of the scheme, though.
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Keepz



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

emordnilap wrote:
you don't have to carry the card - you buy your 'rations' as you go along. You can't opt out of the scheme, though.


Not getting my head round this, sorry. So when I buy petrol, or an airline ticket, or pay my electricity and gas bills, I'd have to buy the appropriate amount of allowances at the same time ?

How does that differ from a carbon tax? Which is also an entirely respectable and oft-proposed policy approach, but (I had thought) a different proposition from carbon trading.

Electricity prices already include a carbon cost, as do many goods involving paper, steel, chemical, food, glass and/or cement manufacture, among others; and so will airline prices when the UK gets its way and aviation is included within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Petrol prices already include a hefty proportion of tax.
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Adam1



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Keepz wrote:
emordnilap wrote:
you don't have to carry the card - you buy your 'rations' as you go along. You can't opt out of the scheme, though.


Not getting my head round this, sorry. So when I buy petrol, or an airline ticket, or pay my electricity and gas bills, I'd have to buy the appropriate amount of allowances at the same time ?

How does that differ from a carbon tax? Which is also an entirely respectable and oft-proposed policy approach, but (I had thought) a different proposition from carbon trading.

Electricity prices already include a carbon cost, as do many goods involving paper, steel, chemical, food, glass and/or cement manufacture, among others; and so will airline prices when the UK gets its way and aviation is included within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Petrol prices already include a hefty proportion of tax.


If you haven't already, it's best to read through the TEQs booklet, which answers these questions.
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biffvernon



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:36 am    Post subject: Re: Polly Toynbee on "personal carbon trading" Reply with quote

Keepz wrote:
After all, if it was that great an idea and that simple to implement, wouldn't one expect some country somewhere to have adopted it already?
No. I know it's hard to believe, but the rest of the world's governments (with the possible exception of Bhutan) are even sillier than ours.
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Keepz



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 2:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Adam1 wrote:
If you haven't already, it's best to read through the TEQs booklet, which answers these questions.


Having done so, I stand by my original comment - the fact that it's compulsory (although it's up to the individual how they use it, everybody has to have a personal allowance) makes its introduction, enforcement, monitoring etc an altogether different administrative undertaking than the Oyster card.

I also had a look at the Defra report on the subject so derided by Polly and noticed that she completely ignored one of its more important findings - that the costs are considerably greater than the benefits, many of which could be (and in some cases are being) delivered in a more cost-effective way.
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Keepz



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 2:37 pm    Post subject: Re: Polly Toynbee on "personal carbon trading" Reply with quote

biffvernon wrote:
Keepz wrote:
After all, if it was that great an idea and that simple to implement, wouldn't one expect some country somewhere to have adopted it already?


No. I know it's hard to believe, but the rest of the world's governments (with the possible exception of Bhutan) are even sillier than ours.


You heard it here first - Keepz predicts that New Zealand will be the first country in the world to introduce a system of personal carbon allowances Cool .
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emordnilap



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 2:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Keepz wrote:
Adam1 wrote:
If you haven't already, it's best to read through the TEQs booklet, which answers these questions.


Having done so, I stand by my original comment - the fact that it's compulsory (although it's up to the individual how they use it, everybody has to have a personal allowance) makes its introduction, enforcement, monitoring etc an altogether different administrative undertaking than the Oyster card.


Every adult in Ireland has a barcoded pps card - a social services id card if you like. So something akin to a personal CO2 card and database is already there. Is there not a similar system in England?

Keepz wrote:
I also had a look at the Defra report on the subject so derided by Polly and noticed that she completely ignored one of its more important findings - that the costs are considerably greater than the benefits, many of which could be (and in some cases are being) delivered in a more cost-effective way.


Part of the whole problem is the piecemeal approach which you implied. OK, it'd be churlish to call some currently operational remedies 'tinkering' but I'd be far happier to see a system that tackled energy usage as a coherent whole, ditching many current measures such as the EU scheme.

It'll won't happen, though, I suspect, so we're probably on a hiding to nothing here.

(1) All fossil fuels will be extracted and burnt - the more so as it gets rarer and hence more lucrative.
(2) The whole energy industry (and waste industry, come to that) is upside down.
(3) Even as fossil fuels get more expensive, we get better at using them (and so ironically more dependent) but even at $500 a barrel or equivalent, they're still fabulously cheap.
(4) I admit I haven't looked at the Defra report yet but in the light of climate change and energy depletion, "costs are considerably greater than the benefits" seems to me to undervalue such benefits as the survival of many species, including us.

I'll have a read at the report.
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Shaun Chamberlin



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

emordnilap wrote:


Keepz wrote:
I also had a look at the Defra report on the subject so derided by Polly and noticed that she completely ignored one of its more important findings - that the costs are considerably greater than the benefits, many of which could be (and in some cases are being) delivered in a more cost-effective way.


I'll have a read at the report.


I'd also recommend taking a look at the responses to the DEFRA report from The Lean Economy Connection and the Centre for Sustainable Energy which highlight its shortcomings. Both available at: http://www.teqs.net/links.html
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