The 2018 UK heatwave prompted me to write this short summary of where we are now and what we can do about it:
Scientists say that the heatwave scorching the UK, northern Europe and Japan was made more than twice as likely by climate change, as was the last major European heatwave, which killed tens of thousands in 2003.
Climate change is caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide and methane, and by the destruction of forests. If we carry on burning more coal, oil and gas, and eating more meat, the world will warm much more by 2100.
The climate is complex. Feedbacks from clouds, from melting arctic ice, and from thawing permafrost mean that scientists don’t know exactly how much the world will warm by 2100. But if we carry on as we are now, babies born in the UK today will grow old in a world that is between 3 and 5 °C warmer than when their grandparents were born.
Now that we’re seeing how bad the impacts of a 1 °C rise can be, it’s no surprise that more and more people are convinced that we shouldn’t allow the temperature to rise by 3 °C or more.
So how do we stop it? We cut our emissions by about 80% by 2050. That sounds like an enormous transformation, but there is one simple measure that will get us most if not all of the way there, and cheaply: Charge people and companies for the harm that is caused by their emissions. This is known as the polluter pays principle.
It means having a climate change tax that is strong, comprehensive, rising over time and, crucially, allows other taxes to be greatly reduced. No-one likes taxes. That is why the last condition is so important.
The tax should start at about £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide, should apply to all emissions, and should increase at about 3% above inflation each year.
That would allow income tax to be reduced from 20% to 15%, VAT to be reduced from 20% to 16%, with money left over to protect the poor and fund basic research. We would move away from taxing things we want to encourage, like jobs and supermarket purchases, to things we desperately need to discourage, like pollution.
The economy will not suffer, it will grow more strongly, and other countries will see this and follow our lead. With a climate change tax, the deadly threat of a warming world can be averted cheaply, and everyone wins.
…and getting out of the kitchen:
This will be my last blog post as a faculty member at Cambridge Judge Business School, as I retire tomorrow. Expect me to still pop up on Twitter from time to time as @cwhope.