The Polluter Pays

Where there is change there is opportunity and right now, as a result of the “COVID-19 reset”, there is a lot of change both needed and in progress. “Build Back Better” encapsulates this but a big question is how – even who – is going to pay for it. For example, the estimate for renovating homes as part of the green recovery runs into many £billions.

The idea of “the polluter pays” is often discussed but it is hard to see how it could be enacted. Bill Gates recently identified the major part steel and concrete plays in our carbon footprint and penalising them would only increase costs for sometimes vital infrastructure. On the other hand, not providing an incentive to find other solutions just prolongs the problem. How do you square this circle or at least start to break our dependency on all high carbon activities?

Currently we seek to do the opposite: to subsidise and give tax breaks to low carbon activities. Is this justifiable? Tax payers are effectively paying to reduce carbon whilst high carbon activities are free to carry on as they are. We are effectively paying to sustain their business model. Just how sustainable is this in the long term?

Tony Danker, the new Director General of the CBI is calling for a 1945 type recovery where ideas like the NHS were introduced and not a 2008 recovery which could be characterised as “build back the same”. He is right. Now is the time to think differently, to think – and do – what has been unthinkable: can we find a scheme that makes the polluter pay?




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