Saturday, 9 November 2013

Replacing Green Levies with Brown Ones

There's been much talk in the UK media and within political circles recently about the costs associated with so called "green levies".  These are additional costs added to energy bills to help fund climate change mitigations such as increased power production from renewable sources, carbon reduction strategies and the all important energy efficiency measures for low income and vulnerable groups in society.  The principle is that the more energy you use, the more you end up paying to help turn that energy generation into a cleaner, greener form and help poorer folk save energy.

Now some people are campaigning that these levies need to be reduced or removed completely and/or moved to general taxation.  The rising energy prices from the Big Six energy companies are hitting the "hard working" people of the UK and some politicians are sensing a quick, popular vote winner in appearing to do something to cut these bills.  Moving some of the green funding measures to general taxation is probably the most progressive option as it moves the cost towards those who can afford to pay more, even if they themselves have already reduced their energy demands. Of course that might be rather unpopular with people in power who tend to pay more of such taxes, and there is a bit of recent history of socially responsible tax payer funded schemes facing the axe.

But what if these green levies are removed completely and we succeed in stalling UK plc's green economy?  Not only will that affect quite a lot of jobs (many in the private section - that bit of the market place that is supposed to be pulling us out of economic doldrums) but it will also mean there will be less investment being made in climate change mitigation technologies, and we'll also end up putting a lot more CO2 into the atmosphere as a result.  We may well find that it becomes impossible to meet our legally binding targets on carbon emissions, which may have some direct economic costs if we're fined or foreign competitors manage to lock the "dirty man of Europe" out of future deals.

One argument put forward by those wishing to remove the green levies is that they don't think that climate change, global warming, call it what you will, is a man-made or even man-influenced effect.  To them it doesn't really matter how much CO2 or other greenhouse gases we emit, the climate will just do its own thing, and actually it will just fluctuate a bit and really we can all just carry on with business as usual.  Ignore the "ecomentalists" and get on with a continuation of 20th Century life into a bright, energy guzzling future.

Unfortunately people with such views currently seem to hold some of the reins of power in the UK, so there's a distinct possibility that at least some of the climate change mitigation funding may be lost.  If that does come to pass, I'd like to propose something to replace them: "brown levies".  Such levies will not be used to fund climate change mitigation strategies but instead fund climate change adaptation strategies. For example such things as building better sea defences, increasing the use of permeable paving systems in urban areas to reduce flooding, covering more of the UK countryside with polytunnels or glasshouses to reduce weather event effects on agriculture, etc, etc.

Some of that is happening now, but at a relatively low level, so the brown levy wouldn't need to be large to start with, but we do need to fund it.  At the moment what funding there is coming from disparate sources such as water bills, council taxes and general taxation, but it is hidden away rather that splashed all over the front pages.  Lets bring it out into the light as a nice, visible set of costs in the same way that the green levies have been brought centre stage by having them bundled together in energy bills.  That way people can see what they have to pay to adapt to climate change.  What goes into the levies could be given to one of Parliament's climate change committees to look after, or be debated every year in the House.

If the climate change deniers are right, the brown levies will stay small, and possibly even reduce as the climate swings naturally back to a late 19th/early 20th century.  Nothing will need to be decided on by Parliament and everyone gets to laugh and point at members of the the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and Transition Towns.  The worst that will happen is that we'll have funded some useful short term environmental protections in coastal towns and flood plains which will have reduced their insurance costs and protected some local industries.  The sort of thing we've been doing for years.

Of course if those folk from the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and Transition Towns are right about man made climate change, and the climate deniers in power right now do manage to wreck the current green levies funding climate change mitigation strategies, then those brown levies will have to go up over time.  And up.  And up.  Adapting to global climate change, even with the moderate changes we're likely to see in the UK, is likely to be very expensive.  Possibly more expensive than the cost of mitigating climate change in the first place.  And of course you'll also be paying for the higher priced fossil fuels themselves still, as UK plc won't have been made more energy efficient or built out its low carbon power generation sufficiently.  We may well be less competitive with some of our neighbours who will be more self-reliant on locally sourced power, so those increased costs will come at the same time as reduced trading incomes.  Oh, and there's those targets we won't have met to deal with as well.

So there's the glove slapped down to the climate change deniers in power trying to reduce green levies: put your (and everyone else's) money where your mouths are and agree to introduce legally binding climate adaptation brown levies if you remove climate mitigation green levies.  What do you, in your world view, have to lose after all?


  1. When I read "climate change deniers" I think of thicker stockings to combat the cold... but more seriously...
    A further look at Building Regulations could be helpful. Already, any notifiable building work has to conform to minimum standards and much of this now involves good standards of insulation. By extending the definition of what work is notifiable, and by making further improvements to the minimum standards, slowly but surely the nations CO2 output could be somewhat controlled at minimum incremental cost.

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  3. obviously if climate change means we get warmer winters and cooler summers then there'll be less fuel/electricity being used ;-)