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Thomas Piketty’s Plan to Beat Climate Change: Charge More for Business Class

A $196 tax on the world’s wealthiest fliers.

via Flickr user TravelingOtter

Taking a long airplane flight is one of the worst things you can do for the environment. In the U.S., domestic flights alone account for 6.4 percent of the country’s travel-related emissions, though car travel is far more prevalent. And a 2013 report found that if the global aviation industry were its own country, it would be ranked 7th in the world in carbon dioxide emissions—between Germany and South Korea. Of course, those emissions are a key ingredient in climate change: The more carbon released into the atmosphere, the hotter and more volatile the planet becomes.

Now the French economist Thomas Piketty has a plan to combat aviation emissions. Yes, that Thomas Piketty, whose book Capital became the surprise hit of 2014 and created an international dialogue about growing inequality. In a paper released earlier this month, Piketty and his Paris School of Economics colleague Lucas Chancel argue a levy against expensive airplane tickets could offset the price of climate adaptation.

The economists find that a $196 tax on business class airplane tickets, and a $21 tax on economy class ones, could raise the $160 billion needed each year to adapt the world to climate change.

“Taxing flights is one way to target high emitting lifestyles, especially if we tax business class more than economy class,” Chancel told Climate Home. “A tax on air tickets to finance development programs already exists in some countries. What we need is to increase its level and generalize it.”

via Flickr user Helmuts Guigo

The economists say the tax would be an easy, albeit imperfect, way to target the world’s top carbon emitters. Just 10 percent of the world’s population emits 45 percent of its carbon. These top emitters include U.S., EU, and Chinese citizens, but also super-rich residents of less developed countries like Saudi Arabia and Tanzania. Its the world’s poorest citizens, however, who stand to lose the most because of catastrophic climate change.

The paper presents other strategies to raise funds to offset climate change. One method would tax countries that simply produce more carbon than average. Another would only tax the top 1 percent of carbon emitters.

“Economic inequalities are reaching record high levels and reducing them constitutes a key challenge to policymakers in the coming decades,” Chancel told Climate Home. “It’s the same thing with carbon: another huge challenge that puts our societies at risk. If we fail to address both, our societies can collapse.”

(Via The Guardian)

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