States are the ‘laboratory’ for climate change policy

By Angela Dorizas

State governments should be the laboratory for climate change policies, leading climatologist Professor James Hansen has said.

In an interview with Government News, Professor Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York, said state governments were well placed to test climate change responses.

“States can have a big impact because they’re often the laboratory for national policy,” Professor Hansen told Government News.

“That’s happening in Canada, where British Columbia has shown that taxing carbon works.”

British Columbia has piloted a fee and dividend scheme where the money raised through a carbon tax on fossil fuels, phased in over five years, will be given back to the public in the form of payroll tax cuts.

Fuel sources subject to the carbon tax include gasoline, diesel, natural gas and coal.

The Province of British Columbia was motivated by a need to harness market forces to help make low-carbon choices more attractive and provide new incentives for developing clean energy and technologies.

Professor Hansen indicated that there was little political cost involved in rolling-out a tax and dividend scheme.

“They reduced the payroll taxes, and the public liked it,” he said.

“When the law was passed within four months it was in effect and working smoothly and the public re-elected that government.”

Professor Hansen said he had lobbied states in the US to become an example for the federal government to follow, urging them to introduce a carbon tax of their own.

“All we need is one good example to show that it works,” he said.

“But it’s a little difficult, because if only one state takes action, for example on carbon price, that puts it at a bit of a disadvantage relative to other states.

“A coalition of states would make more sense and eastern states have talked about a coalition, but the prices they are putting on are so small they have no impact.”

Professor Hansen said municipal governments also had the potential to make an impact on a larger scale, by piloting climate change policies.

Professor Hansen was a guest lecturer at Sydney Ideas.

Watch the Video: After Copenhagen – looking for real solutions

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