The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has conducted a study of the social impacts of climate change in Britain. It includes analysis of where CO2 emissions comes from, and who is most vulnerable to climate change.
Among their findings are the contrasting carbon footprints of Britain’s poorest and wealthiest households:
Britain’s top earning 10% have double the emissions of the poorest 10%. That includes four times as much carbon from private vehicles, and six times as much from aviation.
These are important things to consider, because they allows us to develop climate change policies that are socially just as well as environmentally effective. For example, a national drive to improve levels of insulation for poorer households would lower emissions from heating, while directly benefiting those living in substandard and cold houses. It would be a win-win, socially and environmentally.
On the other hand, a feed in tariff payed for entirely by a levy on energy bills has the opposite effect. Poorer households spend a higher proportion of their total income on energy bills, meaning the levy is regressive. (I’m not against the feed-in tariff, by the way, I just think it could be financed more creatively).
Since the biggest differences in carbon emissions are in transport, taxing aviation at higher rates would have a bigger impact on those richer households that fly more often than on poorer ones that fly more occasionally. Private vehicles are a little more tricky, since increasing the cost of motoring would exacerbate the existing inequalities by pricing lower income households out. One fairer approach might be to focus more on vehicle duty than on fuel taxes. Vehicle taxes are already based on CO2 emissions, meaning that those with bigger and more powerful cars have to pay more. I wonder too if there’s a way of registering second or third cars under a separate a higher rate of tax.
Those aren’t very thought-through ideas, but I mention them to demonstrate the principle that climate change and social justice can be addressed together. Our carbon emissions are not evenly distributed across the population, so the burden of reducing them should not be evenly distributed either.