Climate change: UK windfall tax can be a lever to persuade fossil fuel companies to act on global warming – Scotsman comment

Hot on the heels of Shell’s announcement of a $19 billion profit – on the day UK households were told to expect a 54 per cent rise in energy bills – comes the news that another fossil fuel giant, BP, made $12.8 billion last year.

BP chief executive Bernard Looney argued a windfall tax on energy firms would discourage investment (Picture: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)
BP chief executive Bernard Looney argued a windfall tax on energy firms would discourage investment (Picture: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

The case for a windfall tax, as dramatic a step as that would be, almost makes itself.

However, BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney, who in November excitedly described his company as a “cash machine” as energy prices soared, offered some interesting counter arguments.

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A windfall tax would, he said, discourage investors at a time when BP is planning to increase its spending on renewable energy to 40 per cent of its total expenditure by 2025, cut oil and gas production by 40 per cent by 2030, and produce an extra 50 gigawatts of renewable power.

So, although the UK government has so far resisted calls for a windfall tax, it would appear Looney takes the threat of one seriously enough to enter into what looks a lot like a negotiation.

The cost-of-living crisis is so great that swift action needs to be taken and the moral justification for taking a slice of soaring profits to help people forced to choose between heating and eating is clear.

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However, the windfall tax could be kept to a minimum, with the government shouldering the burden with funds from elsewhere, on the basis that fossil fuel companies are genuinely making significant progress in the transition towards renewables. After all, BP and other private companies are likely to make more efficient use of their funds than the government.

If they develop more sources of renewable energy in this country, that would insulate British consumers from oil and gas price hikes on the global market, improve the UK’s fuel security and, most importantly of all, cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The stakes in the fight against the potentially existential threat of climate change could not be any higher and humanity needs everyone, including the fossil fuel industry, to pull together. We really are all in it together when the ‘it’ is planet Earth.

If the threat of a windfall tax helps some to see that, it should be a policy to return to in the event that the profits keep rolling in and the carbon keeps pumping.

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