COP21, the United Nations climate Change conference, beginning on November 30th, will have over 190 members of the UN convene in Paris to discuss legally binding agreements on addressing climate change. The event has been heralded as the last chance for world leaders to address climate change. Unfortunately, the COP21 isn’t going to save us in time.
According to the proposals presented by 146 countries and the European Union (which make up about 86 percent of global emissions), we would still see global temperatures rise three degrees celsius by 2100, one degree more than the prescribed two degree limit. Though one degree may not seem like much, it would cause severe droughts in the western United States which would mean food shortages and desertification, according to National Geographic. As far as sea level rise is concerned, tens of thousands of homes would be flooded in the Bay of Bengal. For us in Hawaii, that means we could see Aiea become the new Waikiki.
What do we do?
Though there is little information about how countries are planning to achieve their carbon reduction goals, one thing is for sure: carbon pricing is clearly not a big enough part of the conversation.
If it were, we would certainly be able to avoid breaking the 2 degree threshold. Carbon pricing is the most effective solution for reducing CO2 emissions. Here’s how it works. A fee is assessed on all fossil fuels. That fee will rise every year until industries can no longer find it profitable to invest in fossil fuels. As a result, they will be forced to invest in the only other option available: renewable energy. Bill Gates thinks it’s a good idea. So does former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. At least three Nobel Laureates also agree. One of those three, economist Joseph Stiglitz, insists that a carbon tax is our only viable option for stopping climate change.
Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax
A carbon tax could hurt the world’s most economically disadvantaged people and potentially destabilize the economy. This is true if we’re talking about a pure carbon tax. A revenue neutral carbon tax, however,would do the opposite. Such a tax would rebate all money generated from the fees back to the public or through other such mechanisms as reducing income taxes. It certainly worked in Vancouver. Vancouver, B.C. implemented a revenue neutral carbon tax in 2008 and after only five years was able to reduce gasoline consumption by seven times while maintaining economic stability. A model for a US revenue neutral carbon tax would not only maintain economic stability however, but grow it. According to a report from Regional Economic Models Inc., such a proposal would create 2.8 million jobs in just 20 years and increase the national GDP by $1.3 trillion.
Carbon emissions isn’t all we’re up against. With the animal agricultural industry producing 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (versus 13 percent from the entire transportation industry), we need to address methane emissions as well, if not more. Methane gas is up to 86 times more potent than CO2. So what can we do about that? Enact a methane tax, of course. Just as a carbon tax would force industries to divest from fossil fuels as their prices rise, so too would the animal agricultural industry be forced to change its practices to avoid taxation.
Be it methane or carbon, the answer is clear: tax greenhouse gasses. Yet the UN seems to be unable to get the message. Perhaps it will take a while to get the whole world on the same page. At the end of the day, it’s probably just not very convenient to put the safety of the planet before profits.