Governments must wake up to a growing disconnect between their low-carbon policies and the willingness of businesses to embrace more ambitious measures, according to the chairman of carbon management firm Carbon Guerrilla.
Speaking to BusinessGreen.com, Les Hayman said that while companies are increasingly embracing carbon accounting as a method of lowering operational costs, governments are yet to tap into this trend.
Although the self-proclaimed 'greenest government ever' has promised to raise a higher proportion of tax revenue from environmental taxes, few details have emerged of how this is to be achieved, beyond the recent changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme.
Hayman predicted that significantly more revenue could be generated from carbon-related taxes, as businesses are increasingly waking up to the fact that managing carbon effectively makes a positive statement to stakeholders and shareholders.
'I think governments are only just starting to realise that this area is an incredible one for taxation, and one that allows them to look like really good global citizens,' he said. 'Companies understand the 'save the planet' side of carbon, but also that it's really good business sense to be aware of the resources they're using. Businesses are focused on cutting costs and trimming fat and carbon is a key and obvious thing to deal with.'
The response to the government's decision to keep the revenue raised through the CRC, whereby the CBI and other business leadersaccused the coalition of imposing a stealth tax, suggests there is still some way to go until businesses fully embrace carbon taxes.
But Hayman expressed confidence that more firms than is generally accepted would welcome ambitious government action, particularly now a younger generation is increasingly making purchasing decisions based on environmental factors.
'The daughter of a colleague buys text credits from a mobile provider partly based on price, but also its record in environmental factors,' he said. 'And she can burn through £150 in four days, which is some spending power.'
He added that the emergence of global standards for measuring carbon emissions as part of annual reports should make it easier still for governments to impose some form of corporate carbon tax.
Hayman also proposed that the UK government should look to improve its own carbon management to help avoid public sector job losses.
'If we can save money through better use of energy, it's a better way of using budgets than firing someone,' he said. 'If the government managed carbon well, it could cut £100m out of the public sector without cutting jobs.'
Hayman predicts that carbon could be used as a currency, with individuals embracing carbon trading based on their own energy use.
Four years ago David Miliband commissioned a feasibility study into a scheme whereby people would be given an annual carbon allowance they could spend on a range of products. People would then have to purchase additional allowances from somebody else should they want to exceed their limit, with those who came in under their limit being allowed to sell unused credits.
'Think of carbon as a debit or credit card, so you spend something you have or something you pay for in the future,' Hayman said. 'You could buy your latte in Starbucks with your carbon credit card.'
He admits such a scheme would require a global valuation of carbon and does not hold out much hope for an international deal on emissions at Cancun next month. But even raising the issue allows people to think of carbon in a different way, he said.
'Even if it never happens, it is a way of getting people to understand carbon is an item of value. It makes people aware that it's a limited commodity like currency.'