Technology for Good – episode eleven

Welcome to episode eleven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our special guest was unable to make it due to looming deadlines, so I did the show solo. Given the week that was in it with Microsoft’s Build conference taking place, there were plenty of stories stemming from Microsoft’s various announcements, but there was also a ton of other news, as always.

Here’s the stories that I discussed in the show:







Internet of Things




Australia rolls out carbon tax – unambitious but better than nothing!


The Australian parliament passed the Clean Energy bill, 2011 during the week – the effect of which will be to introduce a carbon tax there commencing in July of 2012. The bill still has to be ratified by the senate but with Julia Gillard’s government and the Australian Green party holding a significant majority of seats in the upper house, this is expected to be a formality.

The tax will initially price carbon at A$23 (?17) per tonne in 2012-13, A$24.15 in 2013-14 and A$25.40 in 2014-15. Carbon trading will commence in 2015-16 with a price floor of A$15, rising by 4% per annum.

The interesting thing about this carbon tax implementation is that rather than it being a burden on the tax payer, Australia introduced a series of extra payments and compensations for family’s which will see most workers earning up to A$80,000 (?59,350) a year receiving an extra A$300. This will benefit the less well off the most because:

The tax-free threshold for wage and salary earners to rise from A$6,000 a year to A$18,200 from July 1, 2012, and to A$19,400 from July 1, 2015.

This way of implementing a carbon tax is one I have been advocating for some time but it is not always popular. In fact, when I brought it up at the Green Economy 2011 conference in Dublin earlier I was pooh, pooh’d by former UN Climate Change chief, and current global advisor on climate change for KPMG Yvo De Boer, who said in an uncharacteristically misanthropic comment “Experience tells us that is you give people more money, they will go down to B&Q’s and spend it on patio heaters”. While it may have been a facetious comment, it fails to take into account that, if there is a proper price being levied on carbon, then the problem of the purchase of porch heaters quickly solves itself.

Back to the Australian carbon tax – kudos must be given to Oz for getting this law through parliament despite what must have been one of the most dishonest and vitriolic anti-science campaigns yet mounted against climate change. As Graham Readfearn notes:

They paid millions of dollars for adverts on television, in newspapers and online. They flew in climate change deniers from across the globe. They held rallies, engaged prominent right-wing media personalities, threatened scientists and turned the cold non-partisan findings of peer-reviewed science into some kind of blood sport.

But despite what was surely the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public, from next July major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (about 500 of them) will have to pay $23 for every tonne of their pollution under laws passed earlier today.

The fact is that the Australian example is extremely unambitious – a starting price of ?17 per tonne of CO2 and a goal of reducing Australia’s emissions 5% by 2020? The bill scraped through parliament by the slenderest of majorities (74-72) so it is likely that any proposals seen to be more demanding would have failed.

Having said that, Australia has passed a carbon tax. That’s more than we can say for most other countries.

Well done Australia.

Photo credit Francesco Cavallari Photography ?


How not to implement a carbon tax


Photo credit pfala

The decision by the French government to back down on plans to enact a carbon tax is very disappointing, and not a little puzzling.

President Sarkozy initially said plans to introduce a carbon tax were

a monumental act of the French Republic ? a measure so important President Nicolas Sarkozy ranked it beside “decolonization, election of the President by universal suffrage, abolition of the death sentence and legalization of abortion” in the list of national accomplishments.

However, implementation of the tax was dropped recently after President Sarkozy’s party lost disastrously in regional elections.

According to the New York Times,

The idea of a carbon tax had been widely opposed by France?s business lobby, which argued that it would increase costs, as well as by members of the governing party, which opposed the idea of a new tax.

The French government hoped to raise $4.7 billion to $6.1 billion in new annual revenues to finance state-funded ecological investments from the proposed tax.

This is crazy.

Why did no-one propose enacting a carbon tax which was overall cost neutral?

To implement this – instead of just a carbon tax (i.e. an extra tax on top of existing costs) he could have
1. Reduced corporate tax by an amount roughly equivalent to the amount expected to be recouped by the carbon tax and then levied a carbon tax (overall take remains the same but polluters pay more) or
2. implemented it as a kind of tax break for carbon reductions (i.e. the more you pollute, the less tax break you get)

Given that the carbon tax was such a large part of President Sarkozy’s election platform it is odd that he didn’t attempt any alternative means of rolling it out. He has now effectively shelved the idea of a carbon tax for the forseeable future in France and he gives the appearance of backing down. Not something he has been keen to do up to now!

There is obviously more going on here that I am missing – anyone care to enlighten me?


Linking carbon charges to cleanup costs


Photo credit helmet13

When deciding on the price of a new product, one of the main criteria for setting the price is the cost of production. After all, charge less than the cost of production, and that will soon put an end to the company’s profits and possibly even the company itself!

So, if legislators are considering charging companies for the CO2 they produce, shouldn’t they set the price based on the cost of cleanup? Or is that just a silly idea?

How much does it cost to remove a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere? Obviously that depends on how one goes about the removal of the CO2 (whether by sequestration, growing 1 tonne worth of carbon or some other method) but surely the price companies have to pay for every tonne of CO2 they produce should be linked to the cost of cleanup. No?


San Francisco rolls out carbon tax

I see the LA Times is reporting that the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District‘s board of directors voted overwhelmingly (15-1) in favour of levying a carbon tax on businesses.

The tax will be 4.4 cents per tonne of CO2 emitted which, in reality is paltry:

More than 2,500 businesses will be required to pay the proposed fees. About seven power plants and oil refineries would have to pay more than $50,000 a year, but the majority of businesses would pay less than $1, according to district estimates.

But this rate will increase with time and this news is massively significant in other ways.

This is the first instance of a carbon tax in the US, according to the piece in the LA Times, although the New York Times reports that Boulder Colorado was first when it imposed a carbon tax in Nov 2006 on both businesses and homes.

Either way, this is an indication of things to come. The best way to reduce carbon emissions is to charge for them (and the damage they wreak).

More and more we will see the implementation of carbon taxes and this more than anything else will force us to reduce our CO2 output.

We in GreenMonk are firm believers that we need to get off the carbon economy as soon as possible and so we strongly welcome this new carbon tax.