Air: Responses and Resistance
Carbon Pricing and Labor
by Irene HongPing Shen from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)
Carbon pricing has been promoted as an effective climate policy that would significantly reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) throughout the world. Carbon pricing, including cap and trade, offsets and carbon taxes, are models that prioritize increased profit, not achieving climate goals, to encourage businesses to reduce carbon emissions. Despite the advertised optimism for market mechanisms to change corporate behavior and solve climate change, carbon pricing has not been successful. Instead, the world continues to accelerate towards rising catastrophic temperatures. Event the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank — two of the most vocal advocates for carbon pricing — admit that it has not been successful, although their solutions are to increase and amplify carbon pricing systems. Pricing carbon in a global marketplace controlled by polluters has failed as climate policy.
Who is actually paying for carbon pricing?
While we would like to think that there might be some justice in solving the climate crisis by penalizing the businesses causing the problem, the reality is that businesses can pass their carbon costs down to their employees in the form of wage cuts, loss of benefits, worsened working conditions, or job loss. Businesses can also pass costs further down to other workers on the supply chain and to communities who consume their products or services. The phrase “polluter pays” is used to substitute “carbon tax,” but this is misleading because it is not necessarily the employer who feeling the brunt of the carbon tax, it is the workers who feel the impact directly on their lives and the community consumers who pay more at the register.
“Climate policy cannot be designed at the expense of low-income, poor and working-class people.”
Class struggle or anti climate legislation?
Climate policy cannot be designed at the expense of low-income, poor and working-class people. As long as climate policy, like carbon pricing, is organized around increasing profit, it will inevitably exacerbate class exploitation and disproportionate negative social and environmental impacts to the global South and Indigenous communities, communities of color and working people around the world. When France’s Yellow Vest movement began in 2017, it was because working-class people would be hurt economically by the fuel-tax imposed by French President Marcon’s new climate legislation. Their protest was against the debilitating increase of gasoline prices and electricity bills to their daily expenses, not against climate legislation. Therefore, only climate solutions that prioritize the short- and long-term needs of people, their communities, and their environment, will allow the rapid achievement of urgent climate goals and the advancement of economic justice and sustainability for all working-class communities.