January 21, 2022 Another Consequence of Global Warming: Climate Fees

There’s no doubt that climate change will make life increasingly more expensive. Worsening storms, wildfires and droughts are already causing more damage, boosting medical bills and forcing insurance companies to pay out more. And the primary solution to addressing the climate crisis—transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy—means overhauling all the systems that keep our economies running.

To help pay for these rising costs, governments are being forced to come up with novel ways to generate revenue, and there’s a relatively new idea that’s gaining traction. Essentially: climate fees.

In Hawaii, lawmakers are preparing to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would impose a $40-per-person fee on every nonresident visiting the state. The fee is expected to generate up to $200 million each year and go toward environmental restoration, conservation and climate adaptation and resilience projects, its supporters say.

The measure is gaining momentum among island residents, many of whom say living there has become more difficult as climate change and growing tourism put increasing pressure on the state’s natural resources and infrastructure. Last year, for example, residents begged tourists to stop coming to the state after a drought and “high water use” prompted the government to ration the public water supply.

“Stop coming to Hawai’i,” tweeted former state lawmaker Kaniela Ing. “They are treating us like second class citizens, literally cutting off our water to feed over-tourism.”

Climate fees are popping up in other places, too. In New York City and London, government leaders are advancing plans to implement new fees aimed at limiting traffic congestion on overcrowded streets as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase public transit and pay for the costs associated with making the cities more resilient to the consequences of climate change. 

Known as congestion pricing, these fees aren’t quite the same as the one Hawaii lawmakers are proposing, but they aim to accomplish similar things by helping to reduce the burden imposed on public coffers due to overcrowding and global warming, while also helping governments achieve their climate ambitions.

“If we’re going to fight the climate crisis, we’ll need congestion pricing and we’re going to need it quickly,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in December.

In 2019, New York lawmakers approved for congestion pricing to be levied on drivers who enter the island of Manhattan, the city’s most populous borough. Officials have said the fee would reduce traffic while also raising $15 billion to invest in public transit. But efforts to implement the new fee have lagged since then. This week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced her state budget, which included provisions that would advance and strengthen the city’s congestion pricing scheme, setting it up to begin sometime next year.

London had already implemented congestion pricing across a 13-mile zone of the city back in 2003, which by 2006 had reduced overall traffic by 15 percent and traffic delays by 30 percent, a government report found. Now, London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to strengthen the pricing scheme, making it applicable across the whole city and changing it from a flat fee during certain hours to a sliding fee based on distance traveled.

According to research commissioned by the mayor’s office, London needs to reduce its car traffic by 27 percent to achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2030. Many analysts are saying to achieve such ambitious climate benchmarks, more governments around the world will likely have to adopt similar fees on top of all the other measures they’re considering taking. It begs the question: Will climate fees become just another accepted reality of our warming future?

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

$50 billion

In a new federal plan unveiled this week, that’s how much funding the Biden administration said will go toward expanding the nation’s fight against increasingly destructive wildfires in the West.