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UNRISD Paper Examines Social Policy and Double Injustice of Climate Change in the UK

5 January 2012: The UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has published a paper on the social dimensions and distributive implications of carbon mitigation policies (CMPs), in particular on their negative impact on low income households and the double injustice of climate change within developed countries.

The paper indicates that the recognition that the "double injustice of climate change," namely that populations likely to be most harmed by climate change are the least responsible for causing it and have the fewest resources to cope with the consequences, forms the background of the climate change negotiations. It examines the distributional implications of current policies to decarbonize the economy, with a focus on the case of the UK, which has legally committed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 80% by 2050 as per the 1990 baseline. The paper indicates that many CMPs in the UK tend to be regressive. For instance, whereas energy companies are obliged to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy, the costs for such action is transferred to energy prices for domestic and business users. Energy becomes increasingly a higher share of expenditure in lower income households. The paper notes that, in order to redress the situation, the Government will need to introduce a low income price index, and a ‘social' energy tariff charging less for the initial use and more later on.

The paper goes beyond the Kyoto framework to analyze the total consumption-based emissions within the UK, noting that the UK consumes one-third more carbon than it produces and one-half more GHGs. It notes that household income, size and employment status are a major driver of emissions per person, alongside household size and employment status.

Finally, the paper argues for a more explicit integration of climate mitigation and social justice goals, and examines three options: personal carbon allowances and trading; reduced working time; and the taxation of consumption and income. The authors argue that to combine a green economy with a fair social dimension entails integrating the redistribution of income, time and carbon. The authors underscore that the "double injustice of climate change" within developed countries discussed also has implications for double injustice both among countries on a global scale and within developing countries.

This paper, authored by Ian Gough from the London School of Economics, is part of the UNRISD Occasional Paper series produced in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), with the objective to promote discussion on the social dimensions of green economy and sustainable development. [Publication: Climate Change, Double Injustice and Social Policy: A Case Study of the United Kingdom]