While carbon taxes, where implemented, are typically applied uniformly across all emissions or targeted at specific high-carbon sources, the researchers argue that this approach needs to account for the inherent disparity in emissions produced for primary versus luxury purposes.
Essential needs like housing, cooking, and healthcare contribute to emissions associated with decent living standards, whereas emissions from long-distance travel or luxury vehicle usage are more discretionary. The team developed an alternative carbon tax model based on household consumption and carbon footprints across 88 countries, encompassing the global north and south.
Under a uniform tax rate, luxury purchases would generate 37% of global carbon tax revenue. However, introducing a luxury-focused tax program would increase this figure to 52%. Moreover, this model would reduce global household emissions by 6% compared to a uniform tax rate while mitigating inequalities between the rich and poor.
Carbon Tax Impact: 100 Gigatons Saved
The study estimates that in 2050 such a policy could save approximately 100 gigatons of carbon, representing 75% of the required emissions reduction to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Interestingly, flat carbon taxes may achieve fairness for low-income countries like South Africa, given that lower-income households allocate a smaller portion of their budget to fuel and heating expenses. Implementing a luxury carbon tax, however, could face obstacles.
In many countries, the wealthy wield more significant influence over political outcomes, making it more challenging to enact such changes. The researchers emphasize that luxury carbon taxes are not intended to discourage materialistic lifestyles but rather to address ecological concerns with consideration for distributional implications.
It is important to note that luxury carbon taxation is just one piece of a giant puzzle, not a comprehensive solution. The study reveals that the wealthiest 1% of the population contributes significantly to carbon emissions through their capital investments, which account for about 70% of their total emissions.
Despite its limitations, the study underscores the importance of tailoring climate policies to different consumption purposes, enhancing their fairness. Public support for equitable climate policies is high, suggesting that luxury-focused carbon taxes could garner similar popularity.
In conclusion, the researchers argue that integrating the diverse nature of consumption into climate policy design would inherently improve its fairness. However, this approach should be complemented by other measures to address the multifaceted challenges of climate change.