Swipe-card plan to ration consumers' carbon use
Thursday, 27 July 2006 01:10
There is an interesting article about accounting for carbon in last week's Guardian. I think the scheme has significant weaknesses but is worth reading.
David Adam, environment correspondent
Wednesday July 19, 2006
A radical plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions by rationing the carbon use of individuals is being drawn up by government officials. The scheme could force consumers to carry a swipe card that records their personal carbon allocation, with points knocked off each time they buy petrol or tickets for a flight.
Under the scheme, all UK citizens from the Queen down would be allocated an identical annual carbon allowance, stored as points on an electronic card similar to Air Miles or supermarket loyalty cards. Points would be deducted at point of sale for every purchase of non-renewable energy. People who did not use their full allocation, such as families who do not own a car, would be able to sell their surplus carbon points into a central bank.
High energy users could then buy them - motorists who had used their allocation would still be able to buy petrol, with the carbon points drawn from the bank and the cost added to their fuel bills. To reduce total UK emissions, the overall number of points would shrink each year.
David Miliband, the environment secretary, is keen to set up a pilot scheme to test the idea, and has asked officials from four government departments to report on how it could be done.
The move marks the first serious step towards state-enforced limits on the carbon use of individuals, which scientists say may be necessary in the fight against climate change. It extends the principle of carbon trading - already in place between heavy polluters such as power companies and steel makers - to consumers, with heavy carbon users forced to buy unused allowances from people with greener lifestyles.
The principle was included in the government's review of energy policies, which said a new cross-departmental group "will examine what new policy options, such as tradable personal carbon allowances, could be deployed to stimulate local action". Mr Miliband will announce more details in a speech tonight to the Audit Commission. He will say: "It is easy to dismiss the idea as too complex administratively or too much of a burden for citizens. But in the long term there may be potential to make a system work effectively and in a way that is arguably more equitable, more empowering and more effective than the traditional tools of information, tax and regulation."
Colin Challen, Labour chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on climate change, which has called for carbon rationing, said: "It will inevitably have to be introduced so that consumers, along with other sectors, take responsibility for what they do." But setting up a local pilot scheme could have problems - not least how to stop people driving elsewhere to fill up. Mr Challen said: "An island like the Isle of Wight would be an obvious place for a pilot scheme, though I'm not sure how happy they would be with that."
The weaknesses as I see it are that it only applies to fuel, and not to other carbon-generating energies (like coal fired electricity) and imposes an extra level of bureaucracy that could much more easily be dealt with through a carbon tax, matched with a financial allowance - that would work out financially identical to trading unused credits.
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