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Should polluters pay for climate damage?

Is there a way to make the polluting fossil fuel industry - worth a combined $4.65 trillion USD - pay for its devastating impact, often on some of the poorest countries in the world? This week, the campaigning group Stamp Out Poverty launched its campaign for a Climate Damages Tax. Lush Times writer Katie Dancey-Downs reports

“The climate change wars have begun. I come to you from the front line.”

This is how Avinash Persaud, head of economic reconstruction of Dominica, opens his address at the Climate Damages Tax campaign launch earlier this week [16/04/18].

He paints a picture of what his country now looks like, following the destruction of category five Hurricane Maria: water surging down mountainsides and breaking the banks of the rivers; people being swept away; and homes destroyed beyond any possible reconstruction. These events are getting worse, creating more damage, and Avinash puts that down to climate change.

Dominica has decided to become the first climate resilient country, and Avinash says the country needs the rest of the world to help generate funds.

“Those who are paying the price today are not the ones who have caused the damage,” he says, referring to the climate damage caused by the fossil fuel industry, and the fact that some of the world’s poorest countries are bearing the brunt.

A Climate Damages Tax, (CDT) with a ‘polluter pays’ policy, will transform the energy market from propagating climate change, to limiting these detrimental impacts, he adds.

“We want to change behaviour and we also want to raise revenue to mitigate bad behaviour. I think we can do both.”

The cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report, could be $500 billion per year by 2050.

At the Stamp Out Poverty event in London, Avinash stands beside global MPs and policy makers, to bring forward the idea of a Climate Damages Tax, which would support those who are most affected by climate change.

Taxing the polluters

“Climate change is no longer something that’s happening in the future. It’s happening right now,” says Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas MP, as she opens the launch of the Climate Damages Tax (CDT) campaign, hosted by Stamp Out Poverty.

This is a tax which would address the funding gap for those who feel the impact of climate change most acutely. Fossil fuel companies, whether they are extracting coal, oil, or gas, would be taxed at the point of extraction, making that very extraction less profitable to begin with.

The money would be paid directly into an international fund to pay for the loss and damage experienced in many places around the world. There is also a second benefit to the tax - part of the money would go back to the source countries where the fossil fuels were originally extracted, to help those communities move away from extractive industries.

Stamp Out Poverty is working on a strategy to get more support for this tax in the UK, and Avinash Persaud is quick to point out that this policy does not need every single country to sign up. There is no reason, he says, why the UK could not take this forward on its own.

And that first step has already happened. During the campaign launch, Caroline Lucas announced that the CDT has now been adopted as a Green Party policy. With the Shadow Minister for International Climate Change Barry Gardiner MP also sitting on the panel, Stamp Out Poverty hopes other parties will now follow the lead of the Greens.

The climate change frontline

The climate change impact on Dominica (which Avinash has described) is not an isolated event. Standing up to speak after Avinash, Ralph Regenvanu MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the South Pacific nation Vanuatu, describes the constant threat to this collection of islands - the fear of yet more intense cyclones, the damage to schools and homes when weather events hit, and the continually rising sea levels. A state of emergency has recently been declared on the nation’s Ambae island, after a cyclone exacerbated the impact of a volcanic eruption. The whole island must now be evacuated.

The stories of damaging climate events keep coming. Emele Duituturaga, the executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-governmental Organisations, explains that Fiji is still reeling from the impact of two cyclones.

“Imagine shops where the water is at roof level,” she says, describing how four people were killed, after being washed away by raging water, after it rushed down the mountainside which had been left bare from deforestation. The Fijian government is now looking at the relocation of 63 villages, she tells us.

“This has become our new norm,” she says. But she is equally anxious to share the message of the activists on the ground in Fiji. They are not drowning, they are fighting.

The Climate Damages Tax campaign says damaging events like these are being caused by accelerating climate change.

Coming up against the fossil fuel industry is challenging, but there are good news stories too - New Zealand, for example, has recently announced it will not issue any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. The question now is whether the Climate Damages Tax has a future, and whether it can take on and win in a war against the mighty fossil fuel industry.

Header photo: An RWE power plant in West Germany

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