Just Price Incentives to Decrease Personal Carbon Footprints
This article examines taxation as a way to guide individuals to decrease their
carbon footprints and what justice requires from us when designing such taxes. This
article suggests that from the perspective of local distributive justice if taxes are used to
guide people to behavioural changes the taxes should be sensitive to people’s ability to
pay. This is because flat taxes tend to hit the less well-off harder than the prosperous.
Furthermore, according to the “ability to pay” principle when people are bound to
contribute to a common project we should not make those who are already worst-off
more worse off. Following this, three further arguments are considered for why taxes
aimed to diminish personal emissions should be sensitive to people’s ability to pay.
First, in the case of flat carbon taxes, the burdens are not distributed equally because the
relevant burden in question is not the price paid but the act or effort of changing
behaviour. Second, a carbon tax that directs all to emission reductions is more effective
in achieving these reductions precisely because it directs all and not just certain income
groups to mitigate personal emissions. Finally, it is argued that reflecting external costs
and discouraging consumption are different things. Further on, because of the nature of
climate change, a carbon tax should be designed to discourage consumption and not
merely to reflect external costs. A carbon tax that is sensitive to different abilities to pay
is better in achieving this than a flat carbon tax.
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