A trump card on climate change?

If a plan for personal carbon allowances comes to fruition, every time we wasted energy - for example by putting the washing machine on half full - we would have to think: how many points have we needlessly used? Environment correspondent TARA GREAVES asks if this could be the step change we need to tackle climate change.

If a plan for personal carbon allowances comes to fruition, every time we wasted energy - for example by putting the washing machine on half full - we would have to think: how many points have we needlessly used?

Environment correspondent TARA GREAVES asks if this could be the step change we need to tackle climate change.

During the second world war it was rationing books.

In our current battle, this time against our raging planet, it looks like paper coupons will be replaced by a plastic carbon credit card, which could hold the key to ensuring that we stop wasting energy and adding to the global problem of climate change.


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Proposals for a personal carbon allowance, to ration the amount of the greenhouse gas we each produce, are already being considered by the government and have been adopted as a Green Party policy.

And while Labour plans for new nuclear might be back “with a vengeance” and the Liberal Democrats announced yesterday they would slap “Chelsea tractor” drivers with £2,000 road tax bills, it does not solve the question of cutting how much energy we actually use.

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Perhaps a scheme where everyone is given a set number of credits on a card that would be handed over each time we buy a form of non renewable energy - for heating our homes, running our cars or flying off on holiday - would help?

High users would have to buy points from lower, more green users or from a central carbon bank - much like a trading scheme already in operation for industry.

Mature student Chris Keene, 54, is looking at the issue for his masters in the science of climate change at UEA in Norwich.

“I'm originally from Derby but live in Canvey Island in Essex which is already seeing the affects of climate change and got me interested in the subject,” he said.

He chose to study in Norfolk because of UEA's world renowned school of environmental sciences and the prestigious Tyndall Centre.

The former environmental sciences teacher, who retired early after an accident, also campaigns on behalf of the Green Party and is assistant spokesman for climate change in England and Wales and on a European working group.

“Global warming and climate change are caused by greenhouse gases, the most important of which is carbon dioxide, that are made when we burn fossil fuels of coal, gas and oil,” he said.

“We could just ban burning them but of course that really wouldn't work. Instead we have to reduce it as much as possible and that's why there are things such as the Kyoto Protocol.

“However, what I'm looking at is what we can do about it in this country.

“There are two ways it could happen; a carbon tax on energy or personal carbon allowances. Each unit would equate to 1kg of carbon dioxide. It would be about using your ration wisely.”

As part of their green plan, the Lib Dems want to keep fuel duty in line with inflation and reform the climate change levy so it becomes a tax on carbon across the economy.

The party wants to increase green taxes as a share of national income. The revenue would be used to cut taxes elsewhere - probably income tax for low earners. The country's overall tax bill would not rise.

The carbon card option could be combined with biometric ID cards if they introduced in this country, which would also help combat fraudulent use.

“I see it as the most promising way of slowing down global warming,” said Mr Keene.

He is looking for 20 pensioners and single parents, who will be paid £20 each, to take part in a discussion in the next few weeks which will help him with his research.

“It is most important that the scheme does not hurt the already disadvantaged. There are questions about whether children should be given a carbon allowance and if elderly people, 20,000 of whom die each year through cold related illnesses, deserve more?”

Carbon credits are not about making us change their lives or stopping us having holidays, they are about making us aware of the consequences of our actions.

The results from Mr Keene's research could be published in the International Journal of Green Economics.

If you want to help with the research, and earn £20, call 01603 501386 or email c.keene@uea.ac.uk.

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