Personal carbon trading refers to proposed emissions trading schemes under which emissions credits are allocated to adult individuals on a (broadly) equal per capita basis, within national carbon budgets. Individuals then surrender these credits when buying fuel or electricity. Individuals wanting or needing to emit at a level above that permitted by their initial allocation would be able to engage in emissions trading and purchase additional credits. Conversely, those individuals who emit at a level below that permitted by their initial allocation have the opportunity to sell their surplus credits. Thus, individual trading under Personal Carbon Trading is similar to the trading of companies under EU ETS.
Carbon rationing is considered in the new feature film The Age of Stupid, set for release in February 2009.
Personal carbon trading is sometimes confused with carbon offsetting due to the similar notion of paying for emissions allowances, but is a quite different concept designed to be mandatory and to guarantee that nations achieve their domestic carbon emissions targets (rather than attempting to do so via international trading or offsetting).
Current proposals include:
Individuals would most likely hold their emissions credits in electronic accounts, and would surrender them when they make carbon-related purchases, such as electricity, heating fuel and petroleum. PCAs could also require individuals to use credits for public transport. Tradable Energy Quotas would bring all other sectors of society (eg. Industry, Government) within the scope of a single scheme.
Individuals who exceed their allocation (i.e. those who want to use more emissions credits than they have been given) would be able to purchase additional credits from those who use less, so individuals that are under allocation would profit from their small carbon footprint.
Proponents of personal carbon trading claim that it is an equitable way of addressing climate change and peak oil, as it could guarantee that a national economy lives within its agreed carbon budget and ensure fair access to fuel and energy. They also believe it would increase ‘carbon literacy’ among the public, while encouraging more localised economies.
Personal carbon trading has been criticised for its possible complexity and high implementation costs. As yet, there is minimal reliable data on these issues. There is also the fear that personal "rationing" and trading of allowances will be politically unacceptable, especially if those allowances are used to buy from industries who are already passing-on costs from their participation in carbon levy or trading schemes such as the EU ETS.
Research in this area has shown that personal carbon trading would be a progressive policy instrument - redistributing money from the rich to the poor - as the rich use more energy than the poor, and so would need to buy allowances from them. This is in contrast to a direct carbon tax, under which all lower income people are worse off, prior to revenue redistribution.
There are no operating schemes currently in existence, although the United Kingdom Climate Change Bill will grant powers allowing the Government to introduce a personal carbon trading scheme without further primary legislation.
In May 2008 DEFRA completed a pre-feasibility study into TEQs, with the headline finding that “personal carbon trading has potential to engage individuals in taking action to combat climate change, but is essentially ahead of its time and expected costs for implementation are high”. Based on this DEFRA announced that “the Government remains interested in the concept of personal carbon trading and, although it will not be continuing its research programme at this stage, it will monitor the wealth of research focusing on this area and may introduce personal carbon trading if the value of carbon savings and cost implications change".
Later that same month the UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee produced their report on the subject, which concluded that ”personal carbon trading could be essential in helping to reduce our national carbon footprint" and rebuked the Government for delaying a full feasibility study, stating that "although we commend the Government for its intention to maintain engagement in academic work on the topic, we urge it to undertake a stronger role, leading and shaping debate and coordinating research".
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