Interview with MP Colin Challen at Chatam House London
Joan Veon


Joan Veon: Tax for individuals, why? And where it is? And what the consequences are?

Challen: First of all it’s not a tax it’s an allowance. Lets say that every average adult in this country, the UK, makes 10 tons or is responsible for admitting 10 tons of carbon each year.

Joan Veon: How do you know that?

Challen: We do measurements. In the United states the figure is 20-25 metric tons. In places like Kenya it’s less then 1 ton per adult.

Joan Veon: We’re talking daily living?

Challen: Yes, well the whole country divided by the number of people how many tons it admits and then you get the calculations. Per capita basis. You could say to an individual in the UK ‘you are responsible for 10 tons so we are going to give you an allowance in the first year, of 10 tons or 10 thousands kilos so 10 thousand carbon units. Now if someone doesn’t admit 10 thousand carbon units worth of carbon they are going to have a surplus and the idea is that they could sell that surplus to someone who admitted more. So if you were driving your big SUV and went on foreign holiday’s, you would need a lot more and consequently you would have to go to the market which would easily be accessible at Post Office or on the Internet or on your mobile phone. You would have to buy the extra emission to cover your emissions. If you didn’t buy the extra units you would still have to pay for the extra carbon because if you would run out and you went to the petrol station and you didn’t have a surplus in your account of carbon units you would have to pay a bit more for your petrol and likewise your electricity and gas. If you would run out you’d have to pay a bit more in dollars to pay for the shortfall. You would then start budgeting to get below the annual ration or allowance and each year that would be reduced so that we could meet our long term targets. So you might say that next year we are going to cut it 5% so you would have less then 10 thousand units. You’d have 5% less. In 10 years you might have 20% less or 30% less. Over that period of time you can adjust you can change your vehicles to a hybrid, you can insulate your house, you can do a whole range of those sort of technical fixes to reduce your dependency on carbon intensive energy. You might have more renewables, you may have a mini wind turbine on the roof and solar panels and you could have a heat exchange pump. You may decide to use public transport more. Or have a smaller car which is what I’ve done. I’ve reduced my carbon footprint and a good part of doing that was through changing vehicles and actually driving less and on some journeys now I generally do on public transport and that allows me more time to read my newspaper to concentrate on other things, to read a book, to look out the window. There are compensations in not having to drive your own car through congested streets and so on. So it is not all bad news.

Joan Veon: Where is this in Parliament?

Challen: In Parliament at the moment it is really in the hands of the government who are doing a lot of research and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are looking at it. And there are some other research projects taking place outside of parliament and these are major research projects not ‘it’s a very small scale thing’ and I’m hoping that some clear proposal might emerge before the next general election. That is one thing that I’m campaigning for. In my regards to my own bill it was a private members bill and like most private members bills it died a death not long after it was launched because there is simply not enough parliamentary time to deal with it. But the idea has been given that parliamentary push so I think that helps accelerate that program in the system.

Joan Veon: I was at the London School of Economics doing some research the other day and I saw that the Fabian Society has greatly influenced policies in government. Have they helped you with this or where have they helped with the environmental agenda here.

Challen: Well they have their own inputs in the government. It’s a left leaning think tank. They didn’t have any involvement on this particular proposal. I’ve been working with other academics and groups to explore personal carbon allowances. The most notable of those has been the Royal Society of Art and here in London, and in Manchester, the Tindle Center for Climate Change Research who themselves have spent 2 or 3 years in a major research exercise. In fact they were one of the first to research the idea.