A global problem needs a global solution. That’s the message Canadian writer and activist Keith McNeill presents in this exploration of the benefits of global carbon fee-and-dividend.

By Keith McNeill, former editor of the Clearwater Times, published by ‘We don’t have time.’

Keith McNeill continues to advocate for global environmental action after retiring from the Clearwater Times newspaper. He’s hoping to help raise a grassroots movement that empowers people and governments to make drastic changes in how we use and deal with carbon

Frightened and confused by climate change? Welcome to the club. Just about the whole human race seems to feel the same way, even the deniers (and they might be the most frightened and confused of all).

What can we do? The situation is bad and predicted to get worse; yet the solutions being proposed often seem overly complicated.

There is one solution, however, that is simple in design but powerful in its implications — global carbon fee-and-dividend.

Carbon fee-and-dividend means charging a fee on fossil fuels, similar to a carbon tax. Unlike a carbon tax, however, the money collected would not go into general government revenue but would be distributed to everyone as equal dividends, similar to a universal basic income.

Will it work?

Many leading economists agree that a carbon tax is the most effective way to reduce fossil fuel use. A major drawback, however, is that the poor would pay a higher percentage of their incomes than the wealthy.

Returning the money as dividends would correct that drawback. That is because the top one percent of earners produce six times as much CO2 as the bottom 10 percent.

Canada’s Liberal federal government enacted a carbon tax in the fall of 2018 in four provinces. With 90 percent of the money collected being returned as dividends, it is essentially carbon fee-and-dividend. The Liberals then won an election, which indicates that carbon fee-and-dividend makes putting a price on carbon politically acceptable.

What would it look like?

Up until now, advocates for carbon fee-and-dividend — such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby — have focused on implementing it at a national level in individual countries. That is all well and good, but the program really needs to be global in order to have an adequate effect.

It is important to keep in mind that, during the past few decades, nearly all of the increase in fossil fuel use has been in China, then India and now Africa. Any program to reduce worldwide fossil fuel use must compensate those living in developing countries for any lost opportunities to improve their living standards. Global carbon fee-and-dividend would be the best way to do that.

Let’s say the fee begins at USD $30 per tonne of CO2 (about seven cents per litre of gasoline).

The world produces over 30 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by burning fossil fuels. A fee of $30 per tonne therefore would raise about $1 trillion ($1,000 billion). Assuming there are 5 billion adults in the world, that would give each of them annual dividends of about $200 each, doubling the incomes of millions of people.

We have made multiple efforts to control fossil fuel use, but the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere keeps increasing because we have not addressed this global problem with global solutions.

Global carbon fee-and-dividend would be not the total answer. It would, however, do much of the heavy lifting in the conversion to alternative sources of energy.