Last weekend I shared a platform with a remarkable young man. Jude Walker trekked all the way from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire to Westminster to point out to politicians that the main policy needed to replace what Greta Thunberg so eloquently described as “blah blah blah” is a carbon tax.
The publicity he’s gained has helped propel a petition to over 100,000 signatures, ensuring a parliamentary debate. This will take place today, the day the COP26 climate negotiations begin in Glasgow.
What impressed me most about 11-year-old Jude is that he had grasped the fundamental points of a carbon tax with a clarity that seems to pass many older and more experienced people by. It is the simplicity and effectiveness of such a tax that unites a schoolboy and green economist in believing this to be a crucial policy.
The carbon tax is a strong lever that would cause a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards a clean green economy. The public recognise this: in a recent analysis of policy preferences – the biggest ever of its kind – 94% of the public supported a high and rising carbon tax as part of a suite of policies to address the climate emergency.
Such a tax would signal to business and consumers that everything involving the use of fossil fuels and the production of CO2 is going to get very expensive, very quickly. The result of this runaway fossil inflation will be to incentivise managers and accountants to focus on shifting away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. They will do the job for us.
Many on the left are initially put off a carbon tax because it will increase prices and they see this as an attack on the poor. But the tax would yield an estimated £80bn a year, which would be used to provide a dividend to help those on low incomes. It would help deliver free home insulation, cheap public transport, and a basic income.
A carbon tax is therefore a tax that can deliver social as well as environmental justice.
Ultimately, it is the big polluters who will cough up the most tax. Globally, just 100 companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. And of those the oil and gas companies hold the top spots, with ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron among the highest emitting investor-owned companies.
If they don’t like the tax they should cease business or make a rapid shift towards supplying energy from renewable sources.
Of course, people who engage in more energy-intensive lifestyles will also be hit. Whether we think of Bill Gates and his private jets or business people who fly frequently, a carbon tax will be a progressive tax tackling the energy greed of a tiny minority.
Some Conservative MPs, who have personal shares in fossil fuels or depend on fossil fuel companies to fund their party, may well be a lost cause. Indeed, a recent investigation revealed that Tory MPs have registered £1.3m in gifts and donations from climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests since the 2019 general election.
However, other MPs genuinely understand the urgency of the climate crisis. To them I say, a carbon tax is exactly the sort of market incentive you have been looking for to rapidly squeeze fossil fuels out of our economy, without all the detailed regulation you dislike so much. It is a policy that is at once market-based, efficient and effective.
It takes the clarity of a young person determined to save the future for themselves and their peers to bring this the single most effective policy to MPs attention. Together, as schoolboy and economist, we issue a plea to all MPs: join the debate, hear the arguments and support a powerful and effective lever to move us rapidly towards a greener and healthier planet.
Jude Walker walked some 230 miles to help secure a debate in parliament on a carbon tax today. You only have to take the short stroll to Westminster Hall: please do this in honour of Jude and all his generation.