Most of us accept climate change is real and that this presents a serious danger to life as we know it on planet Earth. The issue now is we seem unable or unwilling to do much about it. I believe that’s largely due to the unappealing nature of the solutions we’re being presented with. Who wants a new carbon tax on petrol? Who wants an end to cheap flights? Who wants to shut down our coal mines and put people out of work?
Such approaches lack enticement. To get the necessary public support, the solutions should provide attractive rewards while supporting the transition to low emissions. Due to the size of the problem, the solutions need to be bold. And to help gain public approval, they must be revenue neutral. In other words, there must be no increase in the overall tax take.
Here are some examples of enticing solutions to climate change:
• Reduce GST to 12.5 per cent and make up the difference through a carbon charge on the non-renewable electricity sources of coal and gas.
• Provide free public transport and vastly improved walking and cycling facilities, funded by a ‘congestion charge’ during peak times in our cities.
• Subsidise the transition of farming and other high-emissions sectors to zero net emission production, funded by a carbon charge on aviation fuel.
These solutions align well with UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ advice: “We must tax pollution, not people”, but they are not perfect. They allow the rich to continue with a high-emissions lifestyle. Some companies will shut down over time if they are unable or unwilling to adapt. Workers will be required to make a sometimes painful transition from high emissions sectors to sustainable industries. In terms of being revenue neutral, there will be a degree of under and overshoot to be adjusted for over time.
However, nothing in life is perfect and humans have a remarkable ability to successfully innovate when the pressure comes on. While we need to be wary of the unintended consequences of enticing and bold solutions, we are likely to be surprised at the multitude of benefits beyond reduced emissions, such as less traffic congestion, safe walking and cycling, a healthier population, cleaner streams and harbours and more liveable communities.
The alternative of not reducing our emissions and reactively trying to build a climate-proof society would be an expensive folly and a wasted opportunity. The public’s frustration with the lack of action on reducing emissions is manifesting into increasingly regular protests.
In adopting enticing and bold solutions, we give ourselves the chance of avoiding the grave climate change consequences that scientists tell us we are moving faster and faster towards. Such solutions can quickly lower our emissions, while helping to make New Zealand into a better place to live.
Bevan Woodward is a Warkworth-based transport planner and walking and cycling champion.
Bevan Woodward, Warkworth-based transport planner