By Claire August
Climate change is a problem that requires the cooperation of the private and public sector to tackle. Businesses have recently taken action on corporate responsibility with the recently popular development of sustainability departments and “green business” certifications and partnerships, such as B Corporations. But to create real change — improvements in environmental sustainability that will not just change carbon emissions but culture — businesses need guidance from the government, an extra “push” that will guide them to acknowledge and act on the triple bottom line — people, planet, and profit. My approach for public-private partnerships to lower carbon emissions is three pronged: a combination of incentives and subsidies, taxes, and regulations. This way, reducing emissions is a give-and-take process for businesses, and they don’t have to sacrifice profit and effort without reward.
First comes incentives and subsidies. We’ve seen clear successes from incentives for businesses and individuals in the US to adopt clean power systems under the renewable investment tax credit plan. Governments can offer tax breaks or other financial subsidies to buyers of hybrid or electric vehicles and builders of LEED certified buildings. Locally, governments can subsidize public transportation directly by more heavily funding transportation systems so that they are more attractive and efficient. But governments can also assist businesses with administering stipends or subsidies to employees or even clients who choose to take public transportation or carpool rather than drive alone. Transportation is a major cause of carbon emissions — in the United States it is attributed to 27% of all emissions — and promotion of lower-carbon transportation methods is key to reducing that chunk. States should also establish a national standard of criteria for what makes a business “green,” and offer tax breaks to those that meet them. This program can evoke B Corporation-like standards for a certification process similar to LEED certification for buildings.
Then comes the trade-off: taxes. Taxes are imperative to limiting consumption and making the cost for low-impact renewable energy affordable, though unpopular. Two taxes that I propose are a carbon tax and a garbage tax. No other method has shown effective in limiting carbon emissions than a carbon tax. The tax both limits carbon emissions and collects funds that can be used for development of public transportation or subsidies for renewable energy. A garbage tax is also an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — both of methane from the decomposition of refuse, and carbon from transportation of garbage. Incentivizing individuals and corporations to limit their trash output is difficult, but one way to do so is by taxing by the pound or by the bag of refuse sent to the landfill. While politically unpopular, taxes are one of the most effective ways to limit consumption of a good; the plastic bag tax in Washington, D.C., is an example of a tax success.
Finally, governments must enact regulations to keep the main sources of carbon emissions in check. Emissions standards for new energy facilities and factories should be high. New vehicles should have low-emission design standards. Based on the economic status of a country, limits should be set on the construction of new nonrenewable power plants. Regulations for a country should be heavily dependant on the individual status of the country: its economic status, resource availability, and infrastructure. Unfortunately, regulations again are unpopular in the business world — they usually have the connotation of the government limiting businesses’ freedoms. However, regulations are necessary to ensuring that a safe and healthy future for all is not compromised because of high carbon emissions.
My multifaceted plan for governments to work together with the private sector to combat climate change by lowering carbon emissions involves some giving and taking by all parties. Businesses will face regulations but in turn will receive incentives for low-carbon practices. But enacting incentives, taxes, and regulations all together is sure to provide the tools for businesses — and the government itself — to make mainstream low-carbon practices that prove to be more sustainable than their carbon-intensive alternatives.
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