Britain’s carbon footprint inequalities

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.

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3 Comments on “Britain’s carbon footprint inequalities”

  1. Andy in Germany November 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    You could always make it easier to live without a car: make walkable communities where everything is within a five to ten minute walk from people’s homes. This would include transport (light rail, bus etc) links to places of eemployment. and to major centres like cities.
    This would benefit the poorer people twofold: firstly they’d be abe to travel without a car which reduces costs. Secondly, as the poor tend to live in the most polluted areas, and the most polluted areas are around busy streets, it would improve living conditions for them.

    In fact, the most pleasant places in the world are largely walkable communities: so everybody wins…

    • jonny blamey July 3, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      I love you Andy in Germany. It is so, much nicer not to have a car. I feel that I am forced to pay for other people to have the right to drive their cars. I pay in the black grime on my face, in the dizzying nausia when I have to stop behind a car in traffic and in the increased risk to my life and to my boy’s life from traffic accidents. When there are large no car zones in cities and towns I can let my two year old run around and meet people and have fun, but when there are towns designed around car owners I have to keep him strapped up or other wise imprisoned because it is just not safe with these child killing vehicles around. People in cars seem to feel so innocent and are often self righteous as well thinking that people should get out of their way and that they should have the right to park anywhere. If it wasn’t for the huge political power of car users we may have moved to more renewable and greener energy sources a long time ago. Their collective political power also motivates oil wars which have been a devastating feature of global politics in the last twenty years. I would love it if “poor people were priced out of the market” for car driving. If poor people are now over 50% of the people in places like America then the whole war mongering polluting child killing car party would lose a lot of power and the world would be a better place.

  2. cclarenceswinney January 18, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
    AMERICA
    10% own 73% net wealth–80% own 15%
    10% own 83% financial wealth–80% own 7%
    50% get 90% individual income-50% get 10%

    73/15 83/7 90/10 That Is Mexico?
    No.
    Mexico is #1 on Inequality in oecd
    America is #4
    America is #2 on least tax on corporations
    America is #3 on least taxed nation

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