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Creating Equal Global Accountability for Emissions-Related Environmental Impacts


The issue regarding the accountability for the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been confronted, but never properly resolved. Policies that do not consider instances of environmental injustice perpetuate a climate crisis mostly among peoples who have little contribution to emissions, and little say in the global politics of environmental practices. Using the United States as example, it has been shown that carbon tax policies as well as green and fossil fuel subsidies in their current state do little to create accountability and need to be rethought to center on the needs of those affected by emissions. Likewise, greater public awareness on how consumer practices fuel global warming could produce a greater transition into renewable energies. Entities that emit a large portion of the world’s greenhouse gases have a responsibility to those around the world whose climates are being affected to the point that they cannot live in the manner that they are accustomed.


Standing amidst infertile land in South Sudan, Akon Garang and Agel Kuan carry the crops that they to grow to sell in a small field that they are luckily able to maintain (WFP 2019). For the 87% of South Sudanese people that rely on agriculture for their livelihood, dried fields such as in Figure 1 are an egregious loss of potential that cannot simply be nursed back to life overnight (Netherlands 2018). Especially with the advancing threats of climate change in the region, millions are exposed to drastic environmental changes and suffer daily consequences of a man-made catastrophe that they themselves contributed minimally to. In a 2016 report from the United States Agency of International Development, South Sudan was detailed to have contributed .0036% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, while the United States was responsible for 16% of the same value in 2016 (UCS 2019). Countries with a greater share of the contribution to climate change are often not the ones affected the most by a changing environment, and there is little accountability imposed upon them for the damages they cause around the globe.

To address the issue of creating a higher standard of global accountability for greenhouse gas emissions, it must first be noted that the current systems designed to balance accountability have long since failed. With research centered on the idea that the environmental policies in the United States have been fundamentally constructed to disadvantage targeted communities, Laura Pulido warns the public of “assuming the state to be a neutral force, when, in fact, it is actively sanctioning and/or producing racial violence in the form of death and degraded bodies and environments.” She places the blame on the governing bodies that put forward such policies, whether they were intentionally disadvantaging these communities or not. In the United States where there is a deep history of discrimination for almost any reason (gender, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation) in almost every avenue of life (school, workplace, transportation, public amenities), it is not so far-fetched to discern discriminatory patterns when it comes to environmental policy. Eliminating the issue that Pulido highlights is simple: create policies that are concentrated on the welfare of disadvantaged communities. In the words of author Shalanda Baker, policy makers should be creating “an anti-racist and anti-oppression policy approach focused on the greater social and economic inclusion of people of color and low-income communities in the renewable energy transition.”

One of the most widely used systems for offsetting the damages of greenhouse gas emissions around the world is a carbon tax. These are meant to lower the incentive of emitting carbon gases by imposing a tax proportional to the amount of gas released. Traditionally, as explained by Professor Paul Griffin of UC Davis, governments can use “this revenue for a specific purpose, such as investing in renewable energy technologies, or distribut[ing] that money to the public to offset any hardship the tax may cause consumers.” On paper, a carbon tax is seemingly a healthy solution to reducing emissions and prompting companies to transition to renewable energies or become more efficient as well as create funds to help those in need of environmental relief. However, Professor Griffin goes on to explain that when “examining several studies of emission reductions in 16 countries and two Canadian provinces,” researchers “found an average reduction in carbon emission intensity and energy use of less than 1 percent per year” (ACEEE 2016). The reality of a carbon tax is that the amount taxed is not high enough to incentivize entities to lower their emissions, and the money that gets raised is not enough to meet the needs of those suffering from changes in climate. Since raising the tax to an amount necessary to tackle climate change would most likely be met with strong opposition by those in political power around the world, the carbon tax must be rethought to consider Baker’s ideology if Pulido’s sentiment is to be heeded.

One such proposal that reflects this position comes from Peter Lorenzi of Loyola University. In an article he outlines three possible improvisations to current carbon tax policies: “creating an economically sound and carbon tariff that recognizes the currently ignored externalities of exports shipped great distance, using the tariff income to replace regressive taxes on income, and investing in sustainable, local production and social enterprise wherever possible, in lieu of international aid and transfer payments” (Lorenzi 2017). Lorenzi’s first suggestion is meant to incorporate taxing the production and transportation of fossil fuels, an avenue of the industry that is mostly overlooked. This would generate greater revenue through the tax because there are more processes being taxed and lessen the amount of emissions through transportation, so long as the tax was high enough to be effective. Using the funds from the tax/tariff to reduce income tax is an ambitious goal of Lorenzi’s policy, but such a system would be much more aligned with Baker’s sentiment because it benefits all people equally (as long as you have a job), but the impact of that benefit is much more dynamic for those in poverty. Lastly, government investment in local productions is one of the best ways for the public to control their consumerism, keeping money and development in the community. Although Lorenzi’s exact policy changes would not solve all the problems identified by Pulido, his intentions are to include a wider range of economic considerations in energy policy as Baker warranted.

In addition to the carbon tax, another common form of regulation for emissions are government subsidies. A subsidy is an amount of money given from the government to a business so that the price of a service or good stays affordable for that business. In the United States, subsidies exist both for renewable energies so that companies are incentivized to use clean energy, and for fossil fuel energy so that they can continue production at large scales. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) keeps a record of the government’s spending on energy subsidies as well as a breakdown of the production of energy, and from this data we can better understand the government’s current attempts at accountability. Figure 2 shows that from 2010 to 2016, the United States has a fairly constant energy consumption, but it has significantly decreased its spending on energy subsidies while simultaneously increasing its energy production most notably in natural gas, crude oil, wind, and solar. Although increases in wind and solar energy are important for the global community, growth in non-renewable counterparts is still far greater. Like carbon taxes, the usage of subsidies needs to be reimagined in a way that more aligns with Baker’s sentiment.

Support for a change in subsidy policy comes from a think tank in the United States called the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). The EESI lobbies for policies that create more sustainable societies, and their stance on subsidies is compatible with stances that call for greater accountability. When addressing subsidies allocated for the fossil fuel industry, they have stated that “subsidizing an industry with such large, negative impacts is difficult to justify. Public subsidies should be consistent with an overarching, coordinated, and coherent energy policy that not only considers the supply of affordable, reliable power, but also public health impacts, climate change, and environmental degradation” (EESI 2019). There are multiple implications to the EESI’s statement. First, it is their position that the usage of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry should be abated because they promote growth and efficiency in that industry. Second, entities should be accountable for their energy production, but costs should not be transferred to the consumer. Lastly, subsidies for green energy need to be implemented on a larger scale, and the money generated needs to directly fund damages to public health that are incurred due to energy productions.

Referring back to Figure 2 and the overall decrease in spending for energy subsidies in the United States, the EIA does not specify which types of subsidies are being reduced. Evidence from the EESI claim that “the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates 6.5 percent of global GDP ($5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, a half trillion dollar increase since 2015”, which reveals that subsidies for clean energy productions have been drastically decreasing while fossil fuel subsidies thrive. Although in an ideal world all energy would come from renewable sources, it is economically strenuous in the current state of industrialization to convert to sustainable methods, so the government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry due to their integration and cost efficiency. However, these policies are in deep opposition to Baker’s stance, so new approaches must be reviewed. Researchers Li et al. propose adding a new element to increase the appeal of green subsidies: a green loan. A green loan is meant to create incentive for businesses to use clean energy by “providing low interest rate loans and government subsidies for environmentally friendly projects” (Li et al. 2019). Coupled with existing subsidies for clean energy, the presence of a green loan would allow companies to explore new options for renewable energy sources at a lower cost and be rewarded monetarily when they are successful at becoming more sustainable. Figure 3 from Li et al.’s study shows how subsidies and green loans create more capital for businesses to become more energy efficient, which would greatly increase the capabilities of the United States to transition away from energy productions that emit greenhouse gases.

As well as creating accountability in the corporate world, it is equally important that the general public of the world become more aware of their carbon footprint. A 2012 article by Kelly Gallagher and John Randell claims that “household energy consumption for space heating, appliances, lighting, and personal transportation is responsible for nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the United States,” which means that if the public sector is ignored in the United States, only about half of the problem has been acknowledged. Although a singular person in the United States has a minimal contribution in comparison to a corporation, the average American has a much larger carbon footprint than an individual that lives in a developing country does. Therefore, the public also has a responsibility for their accountability when it comes to how their everyday choices are encouraging certain corporations. Major factors contributing to the lack of transition of energy methods among the public have been observed to include “individual and collective attitudes and behavior, household economics, and a paucity of readily available information on the benefits of energy-efficient consumer technologies” (Gallagher 2012). This suggests that while some people are unwilling to make transitions, the general public would be more likely to become more energy efficient if they are aware of new technologies and such advancements are affordable.

As an example of this correlation, Gallagher explains in a separate article along with Erich Muehlegger that the public is willing to take advantage of clean energy technologies if they are economically viable. Their study analyzing the willingness of consumers to buy hybrid vehicles when given different tax incentives found that “the type of tax incentive offered is as important as the generosity of the incentive. Conditional on value, sales tax waivers are associated with more than a ten-fold increase in hybrid sales relative to income tax credits” (Gallagher 2011). A short-term incentive was much more appealing to consumers than a long-term one, a similar approach to how large corporations usually decide their economic courses of action. Therefore, reducing the 40% of emissions in the United States that come from personal consumptions comes down to simply marketing affordable clean energy technologies. Consumers will buy what makes sense to buy, meaning as long as fossil fuel energies are the affordable route, it will be the status quo. Observing Pulido’s warning, a status quo can be dangerous because complacency leaves vulnerability to be taken advantage of.

Akon Garang and Agel Kuan will most likely never have to consider the finances of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle versus a standard gasoline engine car. Their everyday stressors are far simpler than the average American’s, yet far greater at the same time. Additionally, those same stressors are intensified by guiltless consumerism in America and elsewhere in the developed world. To normalize much more strict global policies that correspond with Baker’s sentiment is the best way to ensure future justice for Akon, Agel, and the millions of others that suffer similar circumstances.

Works Cited

“Climate Change & Hunger: Stories From 6 African Countries.” World Food Program USA, WFP, 15 Aug. 2019,

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in South Sudan. United States Agency of International Development, Nov. 2016,

“Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 10 Oct. 2019,

“Climate Change Profile: South Sudan.” ReliefWeb, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Apr. 2018,

Pulido, Laura. “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity III: Settler Colonialism and Nonnative People of Color.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 42, no. 2, SAGE Publications, Apr. 2018, pp. 309–18, doi:10.1177/0309132516686011.

Baker, Shalanda. “Anti-Resilience: A Roadmap for Transformational Justice within the Energy System.” Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review, vol. 54, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–48.

Nadel, Steven. “Learning from 19 Carbon Taxes: What Does the Evidence Show?” ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2016,

Griffin, Paul, et al. “Taxing Carbon May Sound like a Good Idea but Does It Work?” Energy Post, Creative Commons, 7 Nov. 2018,

Lorenzi, Peter. “A Different Carbon Tax: The Sustainable Green Tariff. (Social Science and Public Policy)(Essay).” Society, vol. 54, no. 4, Springer, Aug. 2017, pp. 342–45, doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0149-2.

EIA, Monthly Energy Review, February 2018, Table 1.3. Production: EIA, Monthly Energy Review, February 2018, Table 1.2. Tax expenditure estimates: Office of Management and Budget, Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the U.S. Government, FY 2012, 2015, and 2018. Joint Committee on Taxation, Estimates of Federal Tax Expenditures for Fiscal Years 2010-2014, JCS-3-10 (Washington, DC, December 2010), Table 1, Joint Committee on Taxation, Estimates of Federal Tax Expenditures for Fiscal Years 2012-2017, JCS-1-13 (Washington, DC, February 2013), Table 1, and Joint Committee on Taxation, Estimates of Federal Tax Expenditures for Fiscal Years 2016-2020, JCX-3-17 (Washington, DC, January 2017), Table 1. Federal direct expenditure and R&D expenditure subsidies: DOE: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Base Financial Data, FY 2010, FY 2013, and FY 2016; FY 2010 and FY 2013: U.S. General Services Administration, – Government spending at your fingertips,, accessed October 22, 2014; FY 2016: U.S. Department of the Treasury,,, accessed November 16, 2017. Loan guarantee programs credit subsidy: Computed from data from U.S. Department of Energy, Loan Program Office,, accessed January 20, 2015 and EIA, Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010, July 2011, Table 29.  (FIGURE 2)

“Full Report Previous Issues FY2013 FY2010 FY2007 Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2016.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, EIA, 24 Apr. 2018,

Li, Zhenghui, et al. “Green Loan and Subsidy for Promoting Clean Production Innovation.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 187, June 2018, pp. 421-431. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.03.066.

Coleman, Clayton, and Emma Dietz. “Fact Sheet: Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs.” EESI, 29 July 2019,

Gallagher, Kelly Sims, and Muehlegger, Erich. “Giving Green to Get Green? Incentives and Consumer Adoption of Hybrid Vehicle Technology.” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 61.1 (2011): 1–15. Web.

Gallagher, Kelly Sims, and Randell, John C. “What Makes U.S. Energy Consumers Tick? Harnessing the Social Sciences to Answer That Question Can Help Lead the Nation to an Alternative–More Efficient–Energy future. (ENERGY USE AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGE).” Issues in Science and Technology 28.4 (2012): 35–42. Print.