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Deep Focus: Balancing distributional inequalities of climate policies

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Climate change is is one of the big questions of this century, and mitigating its effects remains an enormous challenge. Decarbonisation will require a massive shift in our economies. Heating, transport, electricity and industry will have to be transitioned to a world without fossil fuels. Agriculture and industry will have to find new ways to reduce emissions. This aim – as ambitious as it is essential – necessitates intrusive climate policies.

In this episode of Deep Focus, Sean Gibson interviews Georg Zachmann, a co-author of a recently published Blueprint on distributional effects of climate policies. They untangle the complicated picture of said effects, which may vary depending on the policy tool and its design, the sector addressed and the initial socio-economic conditions in the country. Some policy tools such as carbon taxes may leave low-income households worse off, while policies such as taxes on aviation may leave them better off relative to high-income households. Others, like public investment and agriculture policies, still have unclear effects.

One thing is for certain: whatever distributional effects climate policies may have, they constitute no argument against their implementation. Climate change would leave everyone worse off and disproportionately hit the poorest part of the population. It is therefore essential to design policies in a way that minimises the adverse effects on those most vulnerable.

For further reading, you might consider an opinion piece by Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann on what the “gilets jaunes” movement tells us about environment and climate policies, as well as their blog post on the EU energy industry transformation.

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