COP21 Diaries: The case for a price

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
James Hansen at COP21, Paris, France James Hansen at COP21, Paris, France Marco Magrini
03 Dec
2015
Marco Magrini reports for Geographical on daily events at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris

James Hansen has got a doomsayer’s reputation, maybe for his lack of diplomatic skills, and not only because he made an explosive testimony before the US Congress in 1988 warning of climate change risks well in advance. As a climate scientist at NASA, a federal agency, he managed to publicly blame the Bush administration for trying to silence him. Even today, after his retirement, he isn’t holding his tongue at the UN climate change negotiations: ‘Without a carbon tax, the Paris agreement is broken,’ he bluntly says.

Fossil fuels are partially subsidised, Hansen argues, but their price does not include the cost of air and water pollution on human health. ‘The climate effects which are beginning to be significant, are also not included,’ he remarks. ‘The solution would be pretty straightforward: let’s add those costs to the price of fossil fuels. Not suddenly, but gradually over time.

‘I argue that it should be done across all fossil fuels, at the source: the domestic mine or the port of entry. I also argue this money should be given to the public, in equal amounts to all the legal resident of a country. Then, the household that does better than the average in limiting their carbon footprint, can actually make money.’ In his opinion, this would address the income inequality in the world too, since low-income people tend to have a lower carbon footprint. ‘People with big houses that fly around the world will pay more, but they can afford to do that.’

You can’t say the Paris talks are moving rapidly. After the declarations of the world’s presidents and kings, negotiations are back to their normal, sluggish pace

He makes the point that this would be a transparent, market-based solution, capable of stimulating the economy. ‘According to some studies,’ Hansen says, ‘if you had a fee of $10 a tonne of CO2 and you distributed money to the public, after ten years you would have an emission reduction of 30 per cent in the United States, and more than 50 per cent after 20 years. This would also spur the economy, creating three million new jobs in a decade.’

Hansen describes this as the only viable international approach. ‘You cannot ask each of the 195 countries to individually limit their emissions,’ he argues, implicitly criticising the agreement being negotiated in Paris. On the contrary, he adds, ‘if you put a rising carbon price on fossil fuels, you only need to have a few of the major players on board. Those countries that do not want to have that fee, would put a border duty on products and, furthermore, we will rebate to our manufacturers the carbon fee when they export a product to a non-participating nation. This is a fair way to rapidly move us out of fossil fuels.’

You can’t say the Paris talks are moving rapidly. After the imposing, and maybe boastful, declarations of the world’s presidents and kings, the negotiations are back to their normal, sluggish pace. ‘This is the rhythm of diplomacy, get used to it,’ a European delegate sarcastically tells me.

The prospective agreement to be signed next week – which prescribes voluntary, not compulsory, emission reductions from most of the world’s countries – doesn’t add up to limiting the temperature rise below the famed 2°C mark. Hansen’s most recent paper warns of a possible feedback loop in Antarctica: cooler freshwater from melting glaciers may force warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. ‘You can’t never rule out tipping points,’ he cautions.

The former NASA scientist may not be completely right. The trouble is, he can’t be completely wrong.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, so it…

Oceans

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award…

Wildlife

John Kahekwa is the founder and general manager of the…

Polar

Recent observations of Arctic flora and fauna indicate major changes…

Oceans

A massive die-off of Australian mangrove forests is being attributed…

Energy

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Wildlife

The continuing adventures of Aaron Gekoski as he joins the…

Geophoto

What do Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’, the incipient HS2 high-speed rail…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues working alongside the Wildlife Rescue Unit

Geophoto

Today, the camera is regarded as an essential smartphone feature.…

Oceans

An innovative new theory hopes to save millions of lives…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues his personal adventure into the wilds of…

Wildlife

Simple tracking devices have enabled conservationists to amass big data,…

Climate

In a new report, researchers have calculated the global emissions…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The latest episode sees ‘Bertie’ enlisting in wildlife rescue boot…

Energy

Icelandic engineers are attempting to harness the powerful geothermal energy…

Wildlife

New video series tracks the journey of Aaron Gekoski as…