THE BLOG

Paying the Polluter to Pollute

21/02/2014 09:03 GMT | Updated 22/04/2014 10:59 BST

The time for debating the existence of climate change has long passed. We now urgently need to debate what we are going to do about it.

The average temperature has not been 2C above pre-industrial levels for about 115,000 years. Unchecked climate change means that we allow CO2 emissions to soar, and thus take us over the generally agreed safe limit of two degrees warming.

We have known that rising global temperatures would cause climate change for 30 years or more. Similarly we have known how to stop these changes (by reducing CO2 output) and that the longer we take to address the problem, the more costly it will be to protect our communities and businesses. Yet scientists have been paid to lie about climate change, and climate change deniers are even now being given valuable media time. It is no longer about a balanced debate. It is about urgent action, and what that action will be.

Now is the time to bite the bullet and recognise that serious mitigation measure are going to cost big money.

Money is not for lining the already stuffed pockets of the wealthy - top earners paid £10billion more in tax when the 50p rate was in place. Money is rightfully to be used for the benefit of the common good. Dealing successfully with climate change presents short term problems, and expensive ones. The poor cannot be expected to pay for them through petty taxes such as the miserable bedroom tax, but those who pollute the most are the ones who can afford the most.

The fossil fuel industry has long known that it is huge part of the problem, yet the UK government still subsidises the fossil fuel industry to the tune of £4.3 billion a year, and aviation fuel is subsidised at a remarkable £9.92bn every year. Dealing with climate change means the polluter has to pay, and why not. Nonsensically, this government is actually paying the polluter to pollute.

There are numerous examples of money being spent on supporting fossil fuel industries. The FCO maintains a consulate with three diplomats in Basra largely to meet the needs and demands of BP and Shell. At over £2 million per diplomat per year, the £6.5 million annual budget is significant. Similar support is given to the fossil fuel industry all over the world.

Tax breaks given out by George Osborne since 2012 are so far worth £864 million to the oil and gas industry. Added on to that figure will be the ludicrous notion of tax breaks for fracking.

These tax breaks are in addition to the massive subsidy the fossil fuel industry gets by not having to pay the full costs of the economic, social and environmental damage caused through air pollution, climate change and oil spills. The biggest subsidy the fossil fuel industry receives is not being made to pay the costs of the damage they cause.

For as long as oil and gas extraction is taking place, it is right to tax it heavily. These taxes should rightfully be paying to mop up the Thames Valley and the Somerset levels, for sea walls and flood defences wherever our communities need them.

There are obvious measures we can enact to prevent the heartache and expense of a changing climate in the UK, but even these are ignored. Not building on flood plains is an obvious step to take, but no-one is taking it. We also need to up our game on building standards. The German Passivhaus standard should be achieved for all new build at the very least. It may cost an estimated 3% more to build, but the energy savings alone are worth it. Progress requires investment and facing up to the real prices of energy, and just like any precious commodity, we have to safeguard supplies and say no to waste.

Agricultural practices are another major cause of climate changing concern. Land management and intensive farming methods are adding significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers can be a prickly lot, but the land is a vast sequester of CO2, and constant tillage together with abnormal use of fertilisers is a high risk problem which is not being addressed.

Our failure to meaningfully deal with the threat of climate change is in no small part related to the various arms of governmental institutions intimately supporting the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. But still the subsidies grow almost in line with our greenhouse gas emissions, and the link is not being broken.

There is no real option other than to move rapidly to decarbonise energy. Taxes should be used as a disincentive for polluting activity that keeps our economy hooked on fossil fuels. All tools of Government should focus on making renewables energy cheaper and energy saving more attractive, not bolstering rich oil companies.

We know we are heading catastrophically in the wrong direction when fossil fuel subsidies are six times more than subsidies to renewables.