Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The EU, UK and Australia are funding experiments in “flexible” carbon rationing, in which people receive a set weekly carbon allowance, with a mobile app to deduct from their allowance.
Experiments in setting individuals a carbon allowance have been trialled from Finland to Australia, and some have proved popular. But can carbon rationing ever be fair?
By Frank Swain
18th February 2020
Once a day, Katja Suhonen opens her phone to check on her carbon footprint. Every journey she makes in her home city of Lahti, a city in the south of Finland, is studied by an experimental app called CitiCap and the carbon impact of her travel choices deducted from a weekly budget.
“I have mainly travelled around by bike, public transport and walking before even using CitiCap, so it hasn’t really changed my daily routine,” says Suhonen, an early adopter of the voluntary monitoring scheme. “However, now I try to avoid private car even more than before.” If she has any credits left by the end of the week, she can exchange them for gifts like coffee or a free bike tune-up in participating businesses. Her journeys are automatically tracked by the app, and she only needs to manually input details such as how many passengers she is with if she is travelling by car.
The CitiCap app is funded by the EU’s Urban Innovative Actions, which supports projects that test out “new and unproven solutions” to issues faced by cities. In Lahti, that means cutting the impact of residents’ travel around the city. While Finland has plans to be carbon neutral by 2035, Lahti aims to get there a decade earlier. The city has already halved its carbon emissions since 1990 but to get to net zero will take a lot more work. Transport is set to be a key part of that.
On the other side of world, researchers at Australia’s Southern Cross University were planning their own experiment on Norfolk Island, a tiny Australian territory 1,500 kilometres from the mainland. With only one natural gas supplier, one power company, and a handful of petrol stations, it was the perfect self-contained place to study people’s fossil fuel use. In 2013, a quarter of the island’s 800 households were recruited to a carbon reduction scheme.
Back in the UK, Adam Hardy, campaign director of CarbonRationing.org, is trying to take this idea to the next level. Where the Lahti experiment focuses only on incentivising lower emissions, Hardy wants to see disincentives for individuals who over-emit. He envisions a nationwide “total carbon rationing” programme that goes all the way back to the energy supplier, to give a figure for the carbon emissions in the atmosphere as a result of any given product. This would require auditing the carbon footprint of the supply chain of everything sold in the UK, including imports.
…Read more: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200217-can-rationing-carbon-help-fight-climate-change
I feel especially sorry for Norfolk Island, the victims of Australia’s personal carbon allowance trial.
Anywhere else the trial subject could ahem accidentally erase the app when it gets too annoying, and pretty much get on with their normal life.
But Norfolk Island is powerless to refuse. After their economy was ruined by the GFC, to save themselves the islanders had to accept any terms Australia was willing to offer. In 2015 they agreed to give up self rule. I doubt it was made clear at the time to islanders that this agreement to give up self rule also included being treated as a social petri dish for the Australian Government’s dystopian personal carbon allowance experiments.