MPs call for personal carbon allowance

26.5.2008     (Reuters)

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain should consider giving individuals a personal carbon
emissions allowance in order to help the country meet its CO2 emissions target,
a report by a committee of MPs said on Monday.

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee said the government had to reduce
carbon emissions from individuals and households, as well as businesses and industry,
if it was to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050 as planned.

Introducing a personal carbon allowance — whereby people would have to trade
in credits if they wanted to exceed their own CO2 quota — would be more effective
and fairer than bringing in “green” taxes, the report by MPs said.

The government said that while the scheme had appeal, it would be too expensive
and complicated.

“Existing initiatives are unlikely to bring about behavioural change on the scale
required, with many individuals choosing to disregard the connection between their
own emissions and the larger challenge,” the committee’s report said.

“Personal carbon trading might be the kind of radical measure needed to bring
about behavioural change.”

The idea for CO2 trading is taken from the European Emissions Trading Scheme
(ETS), which forces big industrial emitters of the gas to clean up their act or
buy permits from companies that have.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said a personal emissions system was an “interesting idea”
and one that the government had already researched.

“It’s got potential, but in essence it’s ahead of its time, the cost of implementing
it would be quite high, and there are a lot of practical problems to overcome,”
he told BBC radio.

“It’s not as if the government isn’t taking lots of other action to get our emissions

He said the cost of introducing personal carbon trading would be between 700
million pounds and 2 billion pounds.

However, Tim Yeo, the committee chairman, said difficulties of implementing the
scheme could be overcome and called for more feasibility work to be done.

“It engages people at all levels in their decisions, about whether they heat
their house to a slightly lower temperature, whether they really need to put air
conditioning in their flat, whether they really need to take that flight,” he

“It does so more directly than any other system,” he told BBC radio.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Matthew Jones)


see also


Carbon credits are ‘wrong’ says Benn

Nell Boase

Tony Benn has spoken out against a proposal for individual carbon allowances
put forward by the environment secretary, David Miliband, last December, stating
that “carbon credits are absolutely wrong.”

Speaking to the Guardian at the Hay festival today, the political diarist and
former secretary of state for energy drew an analogy with the food rationing policies
in place during the second world war. “In the war it was a criminal offence for
me to sell my ration book to somebody else, because the purpose of the rationing
was to see that everybody had a fair share,” he said. “If we need to ration [carbon
expenditure] that’s one thing, but fair distribution is the key to it. If the
world is short of resources we have to ration them, which is different from selling

The idea of a personal carbon allowance was first devised by the environmental
writer and former chairman of the Soil Association, David Fleming, in 1996, and
was floated again in a speech by Miliband in July of last year. Since then, the
concept of ‘carbon credits’, under which everyone would receive an annual carbon
allowance to ‘spend’ on products such as food, energy and travel, has been gaining
currency. A feasibility study commissioned by Miliband and carried out by the
Centre for Sustainable Energy for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs, recommended in December that the scheme could come into operation within
the next five years.

A key element of the proposal, however, is that individuals would be free to
trade their credits, selling any surplus carbon to others, or buying more if their
requirements exceeded their allowance. It is of this aspect of the scheme which
Benn disapproves, objecting to “the idea that a rich person can buy credits from
a poor person so that he can go on driving his Chelsea tractor”. Rather, he advocates
an approach of personal responsibility, suggesting that “there is undoubtedly
a lot to be done locally – you can use those low-power light bulbs or insulate
your house.”

The environmental crisis is a crisis of distribution, he said: “it’s one that
reopens all the questions that make me a socialist.”

“The earth is a common treasure; it is a crime to buy and sell it for personal

· Listen to an exclusive interview with Tony Benn on the Guardian Haycast  tomorrow.