Send the bill to the big polluters, not to the ordinary people

25 September is World Climate Action Day. A good opportunity to reflect on the achievements of two years of climate activism. Although climate activists have the great merit of putting the climate crisis back on the political agenda, very little progress has been made in terms of policy. That is discouraging, but it should also give us food for thought. Why is there still no ambitious climate policy? What are the obstacles? I want to mention three of them.

First obstacle: there is no public support for an ambitious climate policy. It is true that an overwhelming majority of people believe that 'something' needs to be done about climate change, as evidenced by the many climate marches, strikes and petitions. However, there is much less unanimity on what needs to be done. Concrete policy costs money, and who is going to foot the bill?

Second obstacle: the proposed climate solutions are highly politicised. The left wants a system change, the right thinks that technology will solve everything. In order to make real progress, however, we need a climate solution that transcends the political parties. Above all, we need to move away from seeing the climate crisis as an opportunity to realise our own ideological agenda. The situation is too serious for that. Instead, we should listen to leading climate scientists and economists and do what is necessary to decarbonise society. 

The third and biggest obstacle is the fossil fuel industry. The climate challenge can also be expressed as follows: 'The fossil fuel industry is the largest and most powerful industry in the world. In thirty years' time, that industry must be completely phased out'. In fact, every climate activist should frame that motto and hang it above his bed. After all, the effectiveness of any climate action can be measured by the extent to which that goal is achieved. 

There appears to be a climate policy that can eliminate these three obstacles, and is endorsed by many economists: Climate Income. Raise a rising tax on all fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry will be forced to phase out its polluting activities. Distribute the proceeds of the tax to people as Climate Income. That way, the bill to stop climate change will end up with the big polluters, and not with ordinary people. This creates broad public support.

Moreover, this solution is ideologically neutral and attractive to both the political left and the right. The right gets a market solution that gives companies the freedom to regulate their own environmental policy. The left gets a policy that spares ordinary people and reduces inequality.

Hence this appeal to all climate activists. Sounding the alarm about the climate is necessary, but insufficient. We must also build support for a climate solution. The good news is: a solution is available that works, that can be broadly supported by the population and that can reconcile the different political ideologies in order to pursue one strong and ambitious policy. Let us unite behind the Climate Income in order to finally make progress in the fight against climate change and for the preservation of a liveable planet.

A European Citizens' Initiative is in progress for the introduction of Climate Income in the EU called “The fast, fair and effective solution to climate change.”. Signing is still possible until 6 November. Every signature counts !