Carbon fee and dividend

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Concept of a carbon fee and dividend
A coal power plant in Germany. Fee and dividend will make fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – less competitive as a fuel than other options.

A carbon fee and dividend or climate income is a system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address global warming. The system imposes a carbon tax on the sale of fossil fuels, and then distributes the revenue of this tax over the entire population (equally, on a per-person basis) as a monthly income or regular payment.

Since the adoption of the system in Canada and Switzerland, it has gained increased interest worldwide as a cross-sector and socially just approach to reducing emissions and tackling climate change.[1][2][3][4]

Designed to maintain or improve economic vitality while speeding the transition to a sustainable energy economy, carbon fee and dividend has been proposed as an alternative to emission reduction mechanisms such as complex regulatory approaches, cap and trade or a straightforward carbon tax. While there is general agreement among scientists[5][6] and economists[7][8][9][10][11] on the need for a carbon tax, economists are generally neutral on specific uses for the revenue, though there tends to be more support than opposition for returning the revenue as a dividend to taxpayers.[8]


The basic structure of carbon fee and dividend is as follows:[12]

  1. A fee is levied on fuels at their point of origin into the economy, such as the well, mine, or port of entry. The fee is based upon the carbon content of a given fuel, with a commonly-proposed starting point being $10–$16 per ton of carbon that would be emitted once the fuel is burned.[13][14]
  2. The fee is progressively increased, providing a steady, predictable price signal and incentivizing early transition to low-carbon energy sources and products.
  3. A border tax adjustment is levied on imports from nations that lack their own equivalent fee on carbon. For example, if the United States legislated a carbon fee-and-dividend system, China would face the choice of paying carbon fees to the United States or creating its own internal carbon pricing system. This would leverage American economic power to incentivize carbon pricing around the world. [15]
  4. Some or all of the fee is returned to households as an energy dividend. Returning 100% of net fees results in a revenue-neutral carbon fee-and-dividend system; this revenue neutrality often appeals to conservatives, such as former Secretary of State George Shultz,[16] who want to reduce emissions without increasing the size and funding of the federal government.

In order to maximize effectiveness, the amount of the fee would be regulated based on the scientific assessments from both economic and climate science in order to balance the size and speed of fee progression.


A climate income has several notable advantages over other emission reduction mechanisms:

  • Social justice and acceptability. While there is broad scientific consensus that a carbon tax is the most powerful way to reduce emissions, such a tax necessarily increases prices and the cost of living. By handing out the revenue of this tax as a universal climate income, the price rise is largely compensated. It has been calculated that in total, low and middle incomes would go up under a system of climate income.
  • Market based and cross-sector. Unlike complex regulatory approaches, a fossil fuel fee allows market forces to reduce emissions in the most efficient and cost effective way.[13]
  • Cross-sector. There is a broad range of sources of carbon emissions. Regulatory approaches and emissions trading often address only one or a couple of sectors. A truly universal fossil fuel fee addresses all these sectors at once. Moreover, through a universal price on CO2-equivalent emissions, the fee can cover other greenhouse gases (such as methane and nitrous oxide) or emission sectors (industry, agriculture) as well.
  • Compatible. The mechanism is compatible with other measures and regulations imposed by the government, such as investments in education, research and infrastructure.
  • Revenue neutral. A climate income would not increase the budget of the government, or utilise the imposed carbon fee as a means to balance the government deficit.[16]


Energy Modeling Forum study 2012[edit]

In late-2012 the Energy Modeling Forum (EMF), coordinated by Stanford University, released its EMF 29 study titled "The role of border carbon adjustment in unilateral climate policy".[17][18][19] It is well understood that unilateral climate policy can lead to emissions leakage. As one example, trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries may simply relocate to regions with laxer climate protection. A border carbon adjustment (BCA) program can help counter this and related effects. Under such a policy, tariffs are levied on the carbon embodied in imported goods from unregulated trading partners while the original climate protection payments for exported goods are rebated.[17] The study finds that the BCA programs evaluated:[19]

In light of these findings, the study recommends care when designing and implementing BCA programs.[19] Moreover, the regressive impact of shifting part of the abatement burden southward conflicts with the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities, which explicitly acknowledges that developing countries have less ability to shoulder climate protection measures.[17]

Regional Economic Models study 2014[edit]

A 2014 economic impact analysis by Regional Economic Models, Incorporated (REMI) concluded that a carbon fee that began at $10 per ton and increased by $10 per year, with all net revenue returned to households as an energy dividend, would carry substantial environmental, health, and economic benefits:[20][21]

  • CO2 emissions in the United States would decrease to 50% of 1990 levels in the first 20 years.
  • Over the same timespan, reductions in airborne pollution that accompanies CO2 emissions would result in 230,000 fewer premature deaths.
  • Regular dividend payments would stimulate the U.S. economy, leading to the creation of 2.8 million jobs over baseline during the program's first two decades.
  • The stimulative effect was also found to positively affect national GDP, adding $70–85 billion per year for a cumulative 20-year increase of $1.375 trillion over baseline (the approximate equivalent of adding an additional year of growth during that span).

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis study 2016[edit]

A 2016 working paper from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) looked more narrowly at the impact of carbon fee and dividend on American households during the first year.[22] Due to the shorter window analyzed (which did not allow for considerations of changes to personal energy use under the policy) the paper found a smaller percentage of households benefiting from carbon fee and dividend than the REMI report summarized above (53% versus approximately two-thirds in the REMI report). It also found that an additional 19% of households suffered a loss of less than 0.2% of annual income, an amount that might be experienced as effectively "breaking even" by households in the upper income quintiles most likely affected.


Revenue recycling in real-world carbon tax schemes

The British Columbia carbon tax could be considered a "fee and dividend", although there are some differences.[23] Rather than entirely or mostly being returned as a dividend to households, 73% of the carbon tax is used to reduce corporate and small business taxes. Unlike most governments, British Columbia's electricity portfolio largely consists of hydroelectric power and their energy costs, even with the tax, are lower than most countries.[24][25]

Country Region Year started Price of CO2 Per year progression Repayment
Canada British Columbia 2008[26] 40 CAD per ton CO2 from April 2019[27] 5 CAD per year till 50 CAD in April 2021 40% for citizens in 2017[28]
Switzerland 2008 96 CHF per ton CO2 in 2018[29] 12 CHF in 2008
24 CHF in 2009
36 CHF in 2010
60 CHF in 2014
84 CHF in 2016
67% for citizens and companies

Political support[edit]

United States[edit]

Carbon fee and dividend is the preferred climate solution of Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL).[30] Citizens' Climate Lobby argues that a fee-and-dividend policy will be easier to adopt and adjust than relatively complicated cap-and-trade or regulatory approaches, enabling a smooth, economically-positive transition to a low-carbon energy economy.[31] James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies has frequently promoted awareness of carbon fee and dividend through his writings [32][33] and frequent public appearances, as well as his position at Columbia University.[34]

A Carbon Dividends plan has been proposed by the Climate Leadership Council,[35] which counts among its members 27 Nobel laureates, 15 Fortune 100 companies, all four past chairs of the Federal Reserve, and over 3000 US economists. Among those supporting the Climate Leadership Council's Carbon Dividends Plan are Greg Mankiw, Larry Summers, James Baker, Henry Paulson, Ted Halstead, and Ray Dalio. It claims to be the most popular, equitable and pro-growth climate solution.[citation needed]

Inspired by the market-friendly structure of carbon fee and dividend, Republican Congressman Bob Inglis introduced H.R. 2380 (the 'Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009')[36][37] in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 13, 2009. Concerned about energy infrastructure as an issue of national security, he supports Fee and Dividend as a reliable means of reducing dependence on foreign oil.[38]

Another bill partly inspired by the Fee and Dividend structure was introduced by Democratic Congressman John B. Larson on July 16, 2015.[39] H.R. 3104, or the “America’s Energy Security Trust Fund Act of 2015" includes a steadily rising price on carbon but uses some revenue for job retraining, and returns the remainder of revenue via a payroll tax cut rather than direct dividend payments.

On September 1, 2016 the California Assembly Joint Resolution 43, "Williams. Greenhouse gases: climate change", was filed, having passed both houses.[40] The measure urges the United States Congress to enact a tax on carbon-based fossil fuels. The proposal is revenue-neutral, with all money collected going to the bottom 2/3 of American households. It may have difficulty passing in Congress because it would be considered a tax, but if households were to receive an equal share in the form of a dividend then the legislation should properly class as a carbon fee. Thus California's recommendation for national legislation is perhaps close to being acceptable to Congress.

A bipartisan carbon fee and dividend bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, was introduced into United States House of Representatives during the second session of the 115th Congress. After the bill died at the end of the session, it was reintroduced in the first session of the 116th Congress on January 24, 2019.[41] The lead sponsor is Democrat Ted Deutch and it is cosponsored by Republican Francis Rooney. The bill would levy a $15 fee per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent which would increase by $10 each year, with all revenue being returned to households.

A similar bill, the Climate Action Rebate Act, was introduced on July 25, 2019 into the Senate by Democrats Chris Coons and Dianne Feinstein and into the House of Representatives by Democrat Jimmy Panetta.[42] This bill's carbon fee would also start at $15 per ton of CO2-equivalent, but it would increase by $15 each year. The revenue would be split between dividends, infrastructure, research and development, and transition assistance.

Several 2020 presidential candidates have publicly shared their support of the fee and dividend policy, including Bernie Sanders,[43] Pete Buttigieg,[44] Andrew Yang,[45] and John Delaney.[46]

European Union[edit]

In the European Union a petition (addressed to the European Commission) was started on May 6, 2019, with the request to introduce a Climate Income in the EU.[47][48] The petition is a registered European Citizens' Initiative, so if it reaches 1 million signatures, the topic will be placed on the agenda of the European Commission, and will be considered to form a legislative proposal.[49][50]


An Australian version was proposed by Professors Richard Holden and Rosalind Dixon at the University of New South Wales and launched by Member for Wentworth Professor Kerryn Phelps AM MP.[51][52] Surveys conducted by UNSW showed that the proposal would receive 73% support [53]


There are objections on the way the tax revenue is used.[54] Emeritus professor of management Henry Jacoby, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reviewed some of the more common concerns in a Guardian article in January 2021, particularly the stigma of taxation's perceived unpopularity.[55] Some opponents are concerned with governments possibly not returning the revenue to people.[56][57][58]


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External links[edit]