IMF Staff call for Carbon Tax on Shipping, Aviation

imf-staff-note-aviship-priceNow that 195 nations have agreed to collaborate for comprehensive global climate action, the International Monetary Fund has published a report calling for a carbon tax on shipping and aviation. The argument is very simple: these emissions cause widespread economic distortion and are a hidden drag on the build-up of new economic value; correcting for that error gives us a more efficient economy and a healthier future.

For a long time, we have listened to advocates against any and all taxation talk about the “destruction” of economic value by the imposing of unnecessary costs on business and investment activity. What they are referring to is the question of market distortion, which hampers overall economic efficiency, and equates to opportunity cost—the loss of otherwise likely economic activity and new value creation. For some businesses, specific economic distortions add to the cost of doing business; for others, the distortion tilts the landscape of economic activity or direct investment in their favor.

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Success Redefined for Our Time

Success in our time is the achievement of a thriving economy and a participatory society fully free of the hidden costs that that come with using greenhouse gas-emitting compounds as fuel. On Friday, May 22, in Paris, Laurent Fabius, foreign minister of France, explained that the nations of the world are now working together “to make sure the decarbonized society is a definitive fact.” Major breakthroughs in local clean energy storage are giving low-carbon energy sources a clear path to dominant market share. We have moved into a new age of innovation and economic development. By way of smart policy, business decisions and technology advancement, prosperity is being decoupled from greenhouse gases.

We can now look ahead with clarity to a fabric of prosperous markets dominated by low-carbon development and sustainable abundance.

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Learning to See the Future

A Clear Price Signal to Visualize the Optimal Energy Investment Shift

[The Note for July 2014]

The single most significant obstacle to moving major investment capital into clean energy is uncertainty about the future market value of doing so. Will such a move put a business at a competitive advantage or at a relative disadvantage, if everyone else is buying cheap fuel that fits seamlessly into the prevailing infrastructure? What has long been missing is a way to move market-dominant private-sector capital into clean alternatives. In a sense, the biggest challenge everyone is facing, when thinking about the future, is how to visualize the future itself, and how to trust that one’s visualization is reliable. The most cost-effective and practically efficient way to do this is with a clear, decisive price signal that allows market players to more clearly visualize an optimal investment-transition trajectory.

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The Writing is on the Wall

[ The Note for March 2014 ]

We are used to thinking of oil, and other hydrocarbon fuels, as highly valuable mineral resources that almost guarantee major profitability. We have been taught to see things that way by a dizzying array of special incentives, protections, direct subsidies and market conditions, that combine to make it possible to cover most of your costs in the fossil fuel business using other people’s money, while the overall framework of our economic activity blocks out meaningful competition. The perception that fossil fuels are “cheap”, that they are the most “convenient” way to access, transport and release naturally occurring energy, and that investors are virtually guaranteed high returns, is a major contributing factor to the dominance of fossil fuels the world over.

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You Already Pay a Carbon Tax

…to the oil companies.


[ The Note for December 2013 ]

It is estimated that nearly $5 trillion per year is spent to support the fossil fuel industry globally by governments (in the form of subsidies, tax credits and other industry support spending) and through hidden “externalized” costs paid by governments and consumers alike (some from health, some from degradation of vital natural resources, some from political and economic turbulence, disruption and waste). It costs a lot of money to make fossil fuels appear to be a “low-cost” way to make historic profits and provide energy. You are paying that hidden carbon tax every day, as part of the cost of almost everything you do.

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Why the Carbon Budget Matters


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found, in its 5th Assessment Report (AR5), which was released in September, that the worldwide human community has a global lifetime budget of “burnable” carbon-based fuels. Beyond that, any further burning of carbon-emitting fuels would push global average temperatures more than 2°C higher than the historic norm, unleashing unmanageable climate destabilization. So, though existing reserves might allow us to use far more than the scientifically measured carbon fuel budget, those resources are in effect “unburnable”.

This is not a matter for ideologically driven debate. This is a question of hard numbers. A 2°C rise is the tipping point, beyond which it is projected climate destabilization will be irreversible, with complex feedback loops exacerbating the situation more and more. Beyond a certain point, probably well before we reach the full 2°C rise, the actual cost of adapting to significant destabilization of historically consistent climate patterns will exceed our ability to spend to respond.

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Warmer Oceans Breed More Powerful Storms

Extreme carbon asset risk inseparable from ocean warming, climate impacts

The global climate system is a registry of past energy transfers throughout the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. As heat-trapping gases proliferate throughout the atmosphere, excess solar energy is infused into the atmosphere and the oceans. The excess heat absorbed by the world’s oceans projects more heat into the atmosphere and generates more powerful storms.

Superstorm Sandy, the largest tropical cyclone by diameter, spanning more than 1,000 miles, was fed by warmer Atlantic waters and dislocated climate patterns the converged in a way never before seen. Supertyphoon Haiyan, the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded by science, was also fed by warmer ocean water and converging climate patterns infused by excess heat.

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Building a Green Economy: a Talk at Columbia University


Building a Green Economy

How to Avert Extreme Carbon Asset Risk, Price Carbon Affordably & Achieve Climate Resiliency

7:45 pm – 9:45 pm
Monday, November 11, 2013
Columbia University

Faculty House
Presidential Room
64 Morningside Drive
New York, NY 10027

>>> Click here to register – It’s free

Due to the urgent need for the United States to respond to the escalating crisis in global climate destabilization, Organizing for Action is hosting action and education events around the country this month, and has invited Joseph Robertson—author of Building a Green Economy: On the Economics of Carbon Pricing & the Transition to Clean, Renewable Fuels, founder and president of Geoversiv Envisioning and a coordinating volunteer for the non-partisan Citizens Climate Lobby—to speak about carbon pricing policy and the emerging green economy.

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Liberate Capital from Carbon Risk


The Note for October 2013

If we do not work collaboratively and thoughtfully to change current practice, trillions of dollars of private investment capital will remain stranded in outmoded fossil fuel operations. Those carbon-focused business lines carry with them diverse varieties of long-term risk, linked to the pervasive externalization of costs and secondary impacts, related to the use of fossil fuels. Such exposure is known as carbon asset risk. We need to liberate that capital to protect future life and build the creative collaborative clean energy economy that will sustain us in a low-carbon future.

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