A former Republican secretary of state and an ex-Democratic economic advisor—along with a widening circle of support—are pitching a plan for a carbon dividend that will meet Donald Trump’s declared political tests for climate action.
In a Washington Post op ed this week, former Reagan secretary of state George P. Shultz and former Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers announce the formation of a new organization, the Climate Leadership Council, to bring together “companies, opinion leaders, and non-governmental organizations who have joined forces to promote a consensus climate solution.”
The two senior figures assert that their carbon dividend concept addresses several tests implied by Trump’s purported reasons for rejecting the Paris Climate Accord. “Any viable climate solution must promote growth and jobs, be fair to ordinary Americans, and prevent other economies from taking advantage of us,” they write. “It must also meet the broader test of American politics: the ability to appeal to the general public, corporate America, and leaders in both parties.
The plan’s “four inter-related elements” will seem unremarkable to audiences steeped in climate policy. They embrace: “a gradually rising and revenue-neutral carbon tax; carbon dividend payments made equally to all Americans, to be funded using all the carbon tax revenue; rollback of costly command-and-control regulations that were implemented because the environmental costs of carbon fuels have not been incorporated into their price; and border adjustment to ensure a level playing field and U.S. competitiveness.” They say a carbon tax rate of US$40 per ton “would achieve substantially greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than all of the regulation now on the table.”
The pair originally advanced their proposal earlier this year. What may be giving the package of fairly conventional ideas renewed prospects now—apart from the savvy rebranding of “rebates” as more upscale “dividends”—is the support Summers and Shultz can claim for their Council. Members include BP, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Santander, Unilever, Total, and Shell. Opinion leaders Stephen Hawking, Ratan Tata, and Michael Bloomberg have also signed on.
The new initiative comes as other figures in the United States, including Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown, are committing to achieve the country’s Paris commitments despite Trump’s decision.
The proposal to distribute the envisioned “dividends” to all Americans may improve the package’s political prospects, but it also means figures like Bill Gates and the Walton family will receive the same benefit as an unemployed truck driver or coal miner.