The German government is debating whether to put a price on carbon to help meet national targets for cutting man-made greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for global warming. Several other countries already have or plan to introduce such a tax, including France, Britain and much of Scandinavia. Experts says that a surcharge for carbon dioxide emissions can encourage people to use less fuel, but risks hitting the poor more heavily than the rich. Plans to raise fuel duty in France contributed to months of anti-government protests by workers fearing financial hardship.
"It's really important to me to avoid unfairly burdening those with low and medium incomes, and especially affected groups such as commuters and tenants," said Svenja Schulze, Germany's environment minister.
Speaking at the presentation of three independent expert studies commissioned by her office, Schulze insisted the funds generated from a carbon charge on transport and heating fuel would be redistributed again.
The three studies all assumed an initial charge of 35 euros ($39.50) per metric ton of CO2, rising to 180 euros by 2030. Germany has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by then, compared with 1990 levels.
At the same time, citizens — including children — would get up to 100 euros ($112.88) each back per year, resulting in a net income gain for low-earners and families. "The less you drive, the less oil you burn, the more you'd get," said Schulze.
The proposal is likely to meet resistance from Germany's powerful auto lobby. The opposition Free Democratic Party called instead for the transport and building sectors to be included in an existing European Union emissions trading system.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet is scheduled to debate the carbon pricing proposal later this month.