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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What to give our planet – and its people – for Earth Day? Climate Income is the perfect present

As Earth Day (April 22) comes around again, we find ourselves at a crossroads, with the path we choose likely to determine whether or not human beings can preserve a livable world for everyone.

Earth Day
Joseph Robertson (right) and Dr Michael Terungwa David

The need to accelerate the pace of decarbonisation has grown more urgent as planetary warming shows no signs of abating. Last July, the Earth experienced four days in a row of record-shattering temperatures. The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported in February that during the previous 12 months, global temperatures were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial era, breaching, at least for a year, a dangerous threshold for warming. Increased temperatures are melting Greenland’s ice so fast that the melt off threatens to shut down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation which contains the Gulf Stream that keeps much of Europe from freezing over.

In Nigeria, the story is not different. The escalation of climate variability in Nigeria has led to heightened and irregular rainfall patterns, drought, floods and rising temperature hinder agricultural production, reducing food security and negatively impacting health and nutrition and a negative impact on Nigeria’s economy.

So, what is the path to avoid the collapse of environmental systems? Every major study agrees we must stop burning fossil fuels – the source of most heat-trapping gases – as quickly as possible. Currently, the speed with which we’re phasing out the use of oil, gas and coal is not fast enough to contain warming to 1.5 C.

“As things stand, demand for fossil fuels is set to remain far too high to keep within reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C,” the International Energy Agency said in a report last fall.

UN report released just before COP28 in Dubai predicts that current emissions pledges put the world on track to warm nearly 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. “Present trends are racing our planet down a dead-end 3C temperature rise,” said U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. “The emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon.”

There is, however, a tool that can accelerate the phaseout of fossil fuels, one that nearly all economists agree on: a price on carbon. The catch, though, is that to discourage the demand for these fuels, the price, tax or fee on the carbon pollution these fuels emit needs to be very high. Such a high price will increase costs, creating an economic burden for households everywhere and causing a backlash against governments that impose a carbon price.

But what if we can lift that economic burden off the shoulders of people and put it squarely on polluters where it belongs? The solution is simple. Take the revenue collected from the carbon fee and give it to households, a policy known as climate income. A working paper from Citizens’ Climate Education on the financial impact of one such policy found that two-thirds of households would receive more than enough money to offset their increased costs. Because they have a relatively small carbon footprint, people in low- and middle-income households are likely to receive more than they need to offset costs, climate income, if you will.

In Canada, where carbon tax revenue is returned to households through the Carbon Rebate programme, the price on carbon is now $80 per ton of carbon dioxide. To ensure that the carbon tax will achieve the desired emissions reductions, the price will rise to $170 per ton by 2030. This would not be possible politically without the Carbon Rebate, whereby 80% of households get as much or more than the increased cost associated with the carbon price.

The Nigerian Climate Change Act 2021- part IV schedule talks about carbon pricing, although Nigeria is yet to adopt a carbon pricing policy. The director general of the National Council on Climate Change stated in August 2023 that the Nigerian Government would explore carbon pricing to mitigate climate change.

In order to maintain a level playing field for businesses in countries that price carbon, a fee can be assessed to imports at the border, a policy known as a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). The European Union is currently rolling out a CBAM that will take effect in 2026. Such a tariff will provide a strong incentive for the EU’s trading partners to implement a carbon price of their own to avoid paying a border fee.

As we pause this Earth Day to appreciate our life-sustaining planet, let’s resolve to take meaningful action to preserve a livable world by speeding up the transition away from fossil fuels. Climate income – a carbon price with revenue given to households – is an effective tool for achieving that goal.

By Joseph Robertson and Dr Michael Terungwa David

Robertson is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate International while David is the Africa Regional Coordinator living in Nigeria

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