The Australian Climate Dividend (ACD) is an efficient and comprehensive emissions reduction policy that pays a financial dividend to all citizens and gives them a substantial role in decarbonising the economy. Their spending of the dividend drives a steady transition towards zero emissions, boosts the economy and creates many new jobs in new industries.
This in turn generates non-financial dividends or benefits, to society as a whole. The biggest dividend is a liveable world.
How does it work?
A steadily-rising fee is levied on the carbon content of fossil fuels upstream – at the mine, well or port of entry
The fee turns large subsidies to fossil fuels and their pollution into climate income, a monthly dividend for households who will spend it on increasingly cheaper low carbon living.
This gives citizens an active role in decarbonising the economy and encourages industry to further reduce their emissions to maintain their market share.
Thus the climate dividend creates a virtuous cycle that will give us as smooth a transition as possible in what promises to be a very disruptive journey for humanity.
This virtuous cycle can be seen in the picture below.
What are the benefits?
- Citizens increasingly spend their dividends on low-carbon products and services that progressively become cheaper as carbon-intensive products and services become more expensive
- Businesses and industry steadily transition towards zero carbon as the rising fee makes decarbonising essential to remain profitable.
- Fossil fuel producers receive a clear price signal that enables and encourages them to phase out production and invest their capital in clean energy production or other zero carbon business
- Border adjustments protect Australia from unfair competition from countries without a comparable form of carbon price and encourage those countries to price carbon themselves, thus enabling the adoption of a global carbon price. (It also heads off the risk of border adjustments being applied to Australian exports by the EU and other trading partners and keeps the money in Australia)
The effective subsidy to fossil fuels, that comes from being allowed to pollute for free, steadily phases out and transfers to households. Citizens receive the dividend that currently goes to fossil fuels.
In short – the carbon dividend will price carbon efficiently, rapidly achieve large emission reductions, stimulate the economy & recruit global participation.
How the dividend gets us to Net Zero Emissions by 2050
Many nations are committing to net zero emissions by 2050. Some will aim to get there before 2050 as ambition ramps up in the face of accelerating warming and the Paris Agreement takes more effect. The global race to zero has already started and Australia needs to catch up and remain relevant. CCL’s vision is to enable Australia to become a leader in this global race.
Getting to zero will be very difficult as Australia needs to quadruple our current rate of emissions reduction immediately to get there by 2050. It will almost certainly be impossible without a carbon price to underpin the many changes needed to decarbonise the global economy. Without a carbon price, fossil fuels will remain artificially cheap and too attractive to consumers and producers alike. Consequently, they will cancel out many emission reduction initiatives and undermine other climate mitigation policies. They will make net zero very difficult to reach.
Due to the inertia of fossil fuels in the global economy, the price of carbon will need to rise, possibly beyond $200/ton. This would make goods and services too expensive for the majority of citizens.
The dividend allows the carbon price to rise high enough to be effective because it enables households to afford the rising costs flowing through the economy.
The dividend also acts as an economic stimulus, much needed as we deal with the effects of the pandemic. Citizens get access to funds that were tied up in fossil fuel developments and their spending injects it back into an increasingly low-carbon economy.
The Climate Dividend is essential if we are to reach Net Zero soon enough to reverse climate change and return to a safe climate and a liveable world.
The financial dividend paid to households is supplemented by many non-financial benefits or ‘climate rewards’. They include:
- Cleaner air and better health
- A more resilient economy that produces many new jobs in industries of the future
- Extra incentive for innovation and low carbon technologies
- Increased energy security as energy imports become redundant
- Acceleration of carbon emissions reduction
- Less disruption and a smoother transition to net-zero
- Diminishing risk of bushfire and extreme weather
What other countries have climate dividends?
Climate Dividends were introduced in Canada in 2018 and have already survived an election in which climate and carbon pricing were high on the agenda. The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 provides a climate dividend to three Canadian provinces and territories and levies a fee on fossil fuels to support it.
British Columbia introduced a carbon fee in 2008 which does not pay a dividend but does recycle 100% of the revenue through tax cuts and concessions to low-income families. Emissions have reduced significantly and the economy has out-performed all other Canadian Provinces.
A climate dividend bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is currently before the US Congress. It has bipartisan support and many co-sponsors. Under the Biden administration’s climate agenda it has a good chance of being debated soon. If passed it will provide carbon dividends and rapidly decarbonise the US economy.
Australia’s own carbon price, the Clean Energy Act 2011 recycled much of the revenue, some of it to households, but not in a way that enabled citizens to easily see how they were benefiting. Emissions reduced significantly while it was in place and rose when it was repealed. The economy grew at 2.6%/year while it was in place.
How do we know it will work?
Professors Holden and Dixon of UNSW modelled climate dividends in the Australian economy and published their results as the Australian Climate Dividend Plan
They modelled a price that would meet our current Paris Agreement target, to reduce emissions by 26-28% which is well short of the reduction needed to reach net zero by 2050. However, they found that a fee levied on carbon at $50/ton would achieve this low target and provide a dividend of $1310 per taxpayer, $2620 for the average household. They estimated that household costs would rise about $2035 leaving the average household $585 better off. Some households, including most with low incomes use less carbon and would therefore retain more than $585 of their dividend.
A 2014 US study by Regional Economic Models, Inc, the REMI Report examined the impact of a steadily-rising fee on carbon with revenue returned to households. Among other findings, the study shows that, after 20 years, a fee on carbon dioxide rising $10 per ton each year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy.
Putting a price on carbon gives an economic signal and polluters decide whether to: 1. discontinue their polluting activity, 2. reduce emissions by decreasing their consumption of carbon or finding alternative low-carbon options, or 3. continue polluting and pay for it. In this way, the overall goal is achieved in the most flexible and least-cost way to society. It is also considered a less invasive policy intervention than direct regulations as it leaves decisions on how abatement activities will be undertaken to the market. The two major benefits of a carbon price are:
- Investors, producers, consumers and governments are all given an incentive to increase energy efficiency and reduce their consumption of carbon.
- It accelerates investment, research and development and implementation of clean energy projects.
Carbon pricing has been implemented in a growing number of countries, with the first carbon tax introduced in Finland in 1990. By 2019, 47 countries had a carbon price at either the national or subnational level, covering approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions . Among these countries, here are the most common carbon pricing schemes in order of popularity:
- Carbon Tax
- Emissions Trading System (ETS)
- Carbon Fee and Dividend
Carbon Fee and Dividend
Carbon Fee and Dividend is an efficient and transparent carbon pricing mechanism that drives greenhouse gas emissions reductions across most sectors of the economy. A steadily-rising fee (e.g. $50 per tonne on CO2 emissions) is placed on the carbon content of fossil fuels upstream – at the mine, well, or port of entry. The entire net revenue generated by the carbon fee is then returned evenly to every citizen through monthly ‘dividend’ payments.
There are several benefits to a fee and dividend approach compared to other carbon pricing mechanisms :
- The dividend (100% of revenue) would protect lower and middle income families, maintain public support and give consumers greater purchasing power, enabling all households to play their part in the mitigation of climate change.
- A dividend instead of a tax would distribute costs across the economy and stimulate economic growth, while giving a strong and positive signal to markets.
- A carbon fee or tax is a much simpler mechanism compared to an ETS, which can be complicated to implement and manage. The costs of administering an ETS are also usually higher for the government.
Australian Climate Dividend Plan
In 2018, as part of the UNSW Grand Challenges Program, University of New South Wales professors Richard Holden and Rosalind Dixon modelled a carbon fee and dividend for the Australian economy and presented it as the Australian Climate Dividend Plan (ACDP).
The ACDP involves a pricing of AU$50 per metric tonne (MT) of CO2 emissions on electricity, direct combustion, transport, fugitive emissions, and industrial processes. The revenue generated would then be returned, evenly, to every voting-age Australian citizen. This would represent a tax-free payment of approximately $1,310 per person per annum. For the average Australian household (which has on average 2.0 people over the age of 18), the carbon dividend represents $2,620 per annum. When in place expenditures are estimated to increase overall by 2.7%, or $2,035 per annum per household, with the major increases coming from transport and energy. Overall this means that the average Australian household is estimated to be $585 per annum better off under a Carbon Fee and Dividend policy.
Click on the link for more info about the Australian Climate Dividend Plan (where you can also download the full PDF version of the report).
A UNSW survey in November 2019 found that 65% support a tax on companies that produce carbon specifically to encourage a reduction in emissions. That support rises to over 73% if it is explained the tax is redistributed to taxpayers and is designed to lower emissions and encourage investment into technology to achieve this.
CCL Australia Advisory Council member Dr Dennys Angove (right) was there to congratulate the authors, Richard Holden (left) and Rosalind Dixon.
Carbon pricing works: June 2020 study confirms it
A paper published in June 2020 by three ANU researchers (Best, R., Burke, P.J. & Jotzo, F.) titled Carbon Pricing Efficacy: Cross-Country Evidence set out the results of the largest-ever study of what happens to emissions when a country puts a price on carbon. They analysed data for 142 countries over more than two decades, 43 of which had a carbon price of some form by the end of the study period. Of those countries with a price on carbon: 21 had a carbon tax, 21 were part of an emissions trading scheme and 1 had a carbon fee and dividend (Canada).
THE RESULTS: The figure on the right shows countries that had a carbon price in 2007 as a black triangle, and countries that did not as a green circle. On average, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 2% per year over 2007–2017 in countries with a carbon price in 2007 and increased by 3% per year in the others.
It would be reasonable to expect a higher carbon price to cause greater emissions reductions, and this is indeed what they found. On average for every extra euro per tonne of carbon price, this was associated with a lowering in the annual emissions growth rate in the sectors it covers of about 0.3 percentage points.
Read more here (The Conversation).
See a presentation here by one of the authors, Paul Burke, at CCL Australia’s National Conference in November 2020.
A history of carbon pricing in Australia
A carbon pricing scheme in Australia was first introduced in 2011 by the Gillard Labor minority government as the Clean Energy Act 2011, a carbon tax which came into effect on 1 July 2012. Initially the price for one tonne of carbon was fixed at $23 for the 2012–13 financial year, and the fixed price rose to $24.15 for 2013–14. The government had announced that the scheme was part of a transition to an emissions trading system (ETS) in 2014–15, where available permits would be limited in line with a pollution cap. The scheme primarily applied to electricity generators and industrial sectors, and did not apply to road transport and agriculture.
Emissions from companies subject to the scheme dropped 7% upon its introduction. As a result of being in place for such a short time, and because then Opposition leader Tony Abbott indicated he intended to repeal “the carbon tax”, regulated organisations were hesitant to make longer term investments in emissions reductions and clean energy projects. The scheme was repealed on 17 July 2014, and since then Australia has not had a price on carbon. In its place the Abbott Government set up the “Emissions Reduction Fund” in December 2014. Emissions thereafter resumed their growth evident before the tax (see graph on the right).
During its short life, the carbon price proved itself to be an effective mechanism, that accelerated reductions in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, incentivising the use of more renewables and less coal, all while having no noticeable impact on economic growth. During the two years the carbon price was in place, the Australian economy continued to grow, with GDP increasing by 2.6% each year under the carbon price. 
Carbon Fee and Dividend FAQs
A carbon fee is levied on the amount of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted, by burning a fossil fuel, an industrial process or a type of land use. While acknowledging the significant contribution of all sectors to global warming and climate change, and the potential for all sectors to mitigate it, our fee would focus solely on the pollution due to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, all of which contain carbon.
When extracted and/or burned, fossil fuels release potent greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere. The fee levied would be based on the tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, at Global Warming Potential (GWP) – e.g. GWP100 for CO2 and GWP20 for methane – that the fuel would release into the atmosphere. This fee would be collected upstream, at the earliest point of entry of the fuel into the economy, at the oil or gas well, mine, pipeline or port. The fee would start low, e.g. $15 per tonne or the current traded price, and gradually increase at a predetermined level, e.g. $10 per year. When the fee had reduced emissions from fossil energy use to 10% of 1990 levels, the fee will have done its job and will be retired.
A tax has the primary purpose of raising revenue. A fee, by contrast, recovers from a beneficiary the cost of providing a ‘service’ or a ‘compliance cost’. Since CCL advocates revenue neutrality and a policy that doesn’t grow government, we are advocating a fee, not a tax.
For the purposes of discussion, you will often find ‘carbon fee’ and ‘carbon tax’ used interchangeably. This is fine. Don’t let terminology get in the way of discussion about the cost of the damage that carbon from fossil energy extraction and use is doing to the climate, and thus to farming, oceans and health.
In the case of petrol or diesel, for example, each $1 per tonne increase in the carbon fee would mean a rise of about a 0.25 cents on the price of one litre of petrol. So, if the carbon fee started at $15 per tonne and rose by $10 per year, petrol would go up by about 5 cents per litre the first year and slightly over 3 cents each year thereafter.
The ‘dividend’ in this case is the payment that would be returned to Australia’s households as a monthly direct credit. The total carbon fees collected, minus administrative costs, would be equally divided between and given back to all households. This dividend would help people to pay the increased costs associated with the carbon fee while our nation transitioned to a clean-energy economy. Because not everyone uses the same amount of carbon, the majority of households (about 70%) are estimated to receive back as much, or more, than they would be paying in increased costs.
A variant of CFD has been modelled by UNSW and presented as the Australian Climate Dividend Plan. In the United States, a comprehensive study was undertaken by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) and found that under a carbon fee and dividend scheme:
- carbon emissions from fossil energy would decline 33% after 10 years, and 52% after 20 years, relative to 1990 levels
- economic activity would be stimulated by 5% over ‘business as usual’
- 66% of people would be better off financially
- 100% of low- and middle-income households would be better off financially.
With 100% of net revenue returned to households and a significant majority of consumers coming out ahead of rising costs, people would have more disposable income, which would encourage spending, stimulate the economy and expand total investment in the energy economy.
CFD legislation would put a fee on carbon dioxide equivalents attributable to the use and extraction of fossil fuels. This fee would be assessed at the fuel’s source: at the mine, well or port of entry. The fee would start out low and increase annually in a predictable manner until Australia reaches a ‘climate-safe’ level of emissions. The fee would be collected exclusively at the first point of sale, and all fees collected, minus administrative costs, would then be reimbursed directly to all Australian households. This would shield them from the financial impact of the shift to a cleaner energy economy and allow them a choice in their purchases during this transition.
Because the fee and the price of fossil fuels would go up predictably over time, CFD would send a clear price signal to businesses and the wider economy to:
- use fossil fuels more efficiently
- replace fossil fuels with low-emissions energy
- invest in low-emissions technologies
- bring the true cost of fossil fuels onto the balance sheet
- increase the demand for low-emissions products, making them even more affordable as they reach mass production
- drive growth in the new economy
- reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus stabilising the climate and restoring the health of oceans.
No. The costs of collecting and administering fee and dividend would be proportional to the number of fossil fuel firms that paid the fee. Collecting a fee from fossil fuel producers and importers would be a relatively simple and low-cost activity.
By giving all of the net revenue recovered back to households — the end-users — consumers would be able to pay the higher prices of goods and services caused by the higher price of fossil fuels. This would allow businesses to pass on the increased cost and keep market share. Each year that the carbon tax increased, the dividend would go up as well. Everyone would be on a level playing field for the first few years. But if businesses failed to become more energy-efficient and failed to reduce their emissions, they would become less competitive and lose market share. Market forces would therefore drive innovations in low-emissions technology, creating new business opportunities to develop, produce, install and service these products. This would create thousands of new jobs here in Australia. Companies would be able to sell these technologies globally and become more energy-efficient themselves, thereby becoming more competitive worldwide.
Academic studies concerned with the economic effect of a revenue-neutral carbon tax generally consider a dividend less beneficial than a tax swap, but nonetheless still very beneficial. A ‘tax swap’ involves using revenue from putting a price on carbon to reduce any combination of payroll, income or corporate taxes. However, these studies also say that, although these tax-swap policies, especially corporate tax swaps, result in a marginally larger economy, extra measures then have to be implemented to help the poor, because no tax swap will help the unemployed, including the millions of retirees.
As the difference in economic efficiency is marginal, CCL prefers the simplicity and transparency of the dividend because it protects lower-income people and boosts the economy even when health and climate benefits were accounted for. Giving everyone a dividend would be indispensable for the success of any carbon price because when petrol and diesel are 26 cents per litre more expensive (as they would be in the scheme’s tenth year according to CCL’s policy) low-income households, who are disproportionately reliant on private vehicles, would not be able to afford their fuel under any of the tax-swap mechanisms which would make any such mechanism unfair and unpopular.
Only a dividend could simply, transparently and fairly help everyone afford inevitable price increases, ensuring support of the policy from business and the public while at the same time giving the ASX, finance sector and the rest of the economy adequate time to adjust.
Known as the Federal backstop, a carbon fee and dividend policy has been operating in Canada since 2018 in three provinces and two territories that do not have their own carbon price.
British Columbia has had a revenue-neutral carbon tax since 2008 that has reduced emissions and while the economy has grown more than the rest of Canada. It combines business tax relief (or ‘tax swap’) with compensation to households.
International: In France, President Macron has called for a border adjustment tax that would levy imports from places where the goods are not subject to a carbon price. The CFD recommended by CCL includes this feature. If adopted by bigger economies, border adjustments could be a strong signal to other nations that it would be rational and timely to price their carbon emissions too.
In terms of Australia’s international commitments, there is no reason that a CFD would not enable us easily to exceed our Paris commitments and fulfil our commitment to the ‘Coalition of High Ambition’.
Other nations, including Australia’s key trading partners, have already surpassed our efforts to mitigate climate change. The consequences of not acting promptly as a global community will be dire. With Australia’s domestic emissions per capita around four times the world average, we may well be more actively encouraged to play our part in the future.
National: Due to recent downward adjustment and its high rate of uptake, the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has reached early redundancy and it is unclear if or how the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) would be an improvement. Unless a decision is taken to expand the RET or the NEG, a CFD would fill a vacuum. It also has the potential to be overarching and cross-sectoral, distributing the costs across the whole economy and ensuring benefits to business are also distributed across the economy, unlike policy mechanisms confined to the electricity sector.
CFD would be a more efficient and transparent scheme than the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) introduced in Australia in 2012 and then rejected by Parliament (and repealed in 2014). Neither can the budget afford to top up the Emissions Reduction Fund, which in any case is not setting a reliable price signal to the economy.
State policies should be reviewed and revised should a stable, effective carbon price, like CFD, be founded on political bipartisanship.
Yes. In 2018, UNSW Professors Richard Holden and Rosalind Dixon produced the Australian Climate Dividend Plan (ACDP) which modelled a carbon fee and dividend scheme and provided independent household impact modelling for Australia. This is an important step, as this economic modelling of an Australian CFD enables policy analysts and decision-makers to understand how different sectors and regions would be affected by the scheme. Information from this report could help in the design of an optimal mix of policies to effectively, efficiently and equitably transition Australia’s economy.
Lessons learned from overseas, from our trading partners, our neighbours, our Commonwealth partners and our partners in the Coalition of High Ambition, as well as from internal pricing, the way leading businesses are undertaking carbon pricing, would see Australia able to strike the right note on implicit and explicit carbon pricing.
Between about 2007 and 2010 there was bipartisan political support for carbon pricing in Australia. What is generally understood to have happened subsequently is that international failure to agree on a path forward led to a critical dip in support for what could have been perceived as Australia taking a lead on climate action.
Post-Paris, there is far greater momentum for carbon pricing, including in China. There has also been a revolution in renewable energy technology and its uptake, and mainstream business and community opinion have become more supportive of reform.
Unfortunately, CFD was unheard of in Australia when the former political bipartisanship collapsed. CCL believes that the dividend to households proposed as part of the CFD, and the simplicity and transparency of the scheme, would improve the potential for achieving a return to bipartisan support for a solution to climate change. The CFD is easy to explain. People are more likely to understand it, and there would be even greater trust if specifics like dividends to households were clearly enshrined in law.
With CFD, 100% of the money collected in fees would be recycled into the economy via the carbon dividend paid each month to households. In the US, REMI modelling strongly suggests that most households would be financially better off if a CFD were implemented, and we expect the Australian economy likewise would benefit from an Australian CFD.
In the US, 84 members of Congress – 50% Democrats and 50% Republicans – have formed a Climate Solutions Caucus. This Caucus addresses the urgent need to foster respectful bipartisan dialogue as a way to help solve dilemmas of climate and energy policy like the very severe and complex ones Australia faces today.
Bipartisanship would help create effective and durable policy, which is an important expectation of the business community in particular, many members of which are waiting for an already factoring in a rising carbon price. But the expectation of an effective and durable policy on mitigation of climate change extends far beyond just the business community.
No. A Carbon Fee and Dividend scheme include Border Adjustment to ensure competitiveness and protect the business from unfair competition from countries without a carbon price. [1,2]. Products imported from a country that did not impose a carbon price equivalent to ours would have to attract a surcharge or tariff to make up the difference. Conversely, an Australian-made product exported to such a country would attract a rebate from the carbon fees fund held by the Australian Government equivalent to the carbon fee associated with the product’s carbon footprint.
This BCA would prevent Australian manufacturers from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in global markets because of the carbon fee. It would also remove the incentive for them to relocate overseas to avoid such a fee, and thereby prevent ‘carbon leakage’. In addition, it would encourage foreign countries to adopt their own carbon fee so that they would get the money instead of us. Carbon Fee and Dividend’s BCA is designed to comply with the laws of international trade [3,4].
Until such time as border adjustments are adopted by major global economies, a Border Adjustment would make Emission-Intensive and Trade-Exposed (EITE) industries unlikely to survive. An interim Output-Based Climate Pricing System solves this problem while still giving industries an incentive to progressively reduce their emissions.
‘It’s not a tax if the government doesn’t keep the money.’ George P Shultz, former US Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State
- Carbon Fee and Dividend (CFD) would meet the objective of causing minimal disruption to the economy and climate while giving a strong and positive signal to markets.
- 100% of the net revenue collected would be returned directly to households through monthly ‘dividend’ payments (minus administrative costs).
- The dividend would give most consumers greater purchasing power, enabling all households to afford to play their part in the mitigation of climate change. This is a distinctive and important feature lacking in other systems of carbon pricing, including the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) and the subsequent Clean Energy Future carbon pricing scheme introduced in Australia in 2012 and then repealed in 2014.
- Businesses would be given incentives to increase energy efficiency and could at the same time be assured that customers could meet any increased costs resulting from the carbon fee.
- CFD would strongly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy and saving lives.
- The system is efficient and would provide good value.
- CFD is simple and transparent. It would distribute costs across the economy and avoid the pitfalls associated with governments intervening to favour powerful vested interests or to ‘pick winners’.
- The system is fair. It combines individualism (allowing markets and individuals to choose in response to price signals) with egalitarianism (allowing both inter-and intra-generational equity).
- CFD would be a positive solution that all political parties can support.
Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, to ‘… pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels’, is in jeopardy.
Opinion polls consistently show that a vast and growing majority of the Australian public want the Australian Government to adopt a non-partisan approach to effective climate policy and to do what is required to mitigate climate change.
Business groups have called for a market-based mechanism to cut emissions, and many are already making commitments on the assumption that there should be a stronger, regulated, long-lasting global and national carbon-pricing mechanism as part of the Paris Agreement.
Carbon Fee and Dividend is the preferred climate solution of CCL in the United States and is steadily gaining support in the US Congress as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. A variant called Climate Dividends Plan is advocated by the Climate Leadership Council, a conservative Washington-based think tank.