The UK government has committed to become a net-zero carbon emissions nation by 2050. Many businesses and organisations would like to achieve net-zero themselves a lot sooner, so government should setup a national scheme to enable them to do so, helping spur the push to net-zero and dispersing the cost of achieving it.
The UK is committed to achieve net-zero status by 2050, and there is a simple scheme the government could create which would help advance the push to net-zero and disperse the cost around the country.
The government should setup a national Net-Zero Fund and associated Net-Zero Certification Scheme.
This Net-Zero Scheme would enable any individual or business to calculate their annual emissions, identify actions they could take to reduce their emissions, and offset what remains; if they do all three, they will be certified as net-zero.
The tools to do this already exist online, however there are so many different websites and schemes, it is difficult for people to know which are the best, and it is difficult for businesses to get reliable certification if they commit to net-zero, hampering the business case for achieving it quickly.
By creating a national, government backed scheme, both individuals and businesses could achieve net-zero rapidly. Importantly, from the business perspective, as one or two companies in a particular field went net-zero, it would create pressure for all to follow, so the scheme could have a rapid impact.
For individuals, it offers a conspicuous symbol of their green credentials; having a badge to display on social media and a certificate to hang on the wall, for example, would create a visible symbol of an individual’s sustainability and offers the opportunity for it to become a trend throughout the country. Celebrities would inevitably achieve the status quickly, providing widespread and free publicity for the scheme, helping to spur adoption at very low cost to the public purse.
The key to such a scheme is simplicity; making it as quick and easy as possible to calculate emissions and then offset them, and making the actions to reduce emissions as simple as possible as well.
As the scheme becomes more established, the measurement tools could become more precise, and a cottage industry of businesses would develop to provide better and easier data to more accurately measure emissions.
As for the offset, in the early stages this could be standard projects such as fuel-efficient stoves and tree-planting, but as the Net-Zero Fund grew in value it would become more innovative and complex; for example, splitting the fund expenditure between direct offsets such as tree planting, indirect offsets such as providing schooling for girls in poor countries (as recommended by Project Drawdown) and R&D for new technologies to support the fight against climate change.
To make the scheme as easy as possible to adopt, it would be on the government website, an option on all self-assessment tax returns, and an option for all company account submissions to Companies House; all companies that completed the Net-Zero Scheme would be certified as such on Companies House and could display the badge on their website; this allows easy checking for fraud, and random audits could also be conducted on businesses thought to be cheating the system by understating their emissions.
The scheme would also provide the UK with reams of data to identify the slowest-moving areas and then apply more efforts to reducing their emissions.
In an era when UK government is looking for ways to raise revenue, this scheme in effect creates a voluntary carbon tax and enables government to assess the impact of such a tax on economic activity in different areas of the economy, all without the political risks of implementing a mandatory tax.
It also points to a general method that could be used more widely to raise funds for the public purse; create such ‘voluntary’ taxes and provide a benefit in return (such as the Net-Zero badge) and people will willingly pay money that they would resent if it was mandatory.
In sum, a helpful ‘nudge’ to net-zero.