Plans to charge polluters for the amount of carbon they emit have split councillors in Bath and North East Somerset.
Councillor Joanna Wright, the only Green, said taxing carbon use and paying out a citizens’ dividend could bring down emissions in a way that is equitable and fair for all.
The former Liberal Democrat accused her old colleagues of “greenwashing” by instead pushing for carbon pricing she said would create a new market for fossil fuels.
But Lib Dem cabinet member Sarah Warren said billionaire emitters could buy their way out of a carbon tax and it would hit low-income households hardest.
She said the details were best left to experts at the Treasury.
Speaking at the full council meeting on 17th November, councillor Wright said: “The scale of what is needed is politically uncomfortable.
“It is much easier to stick with our current behaviour than face up to the evidence that tells us that we need to change that behaviour now.
“Creating a new vision for how we all live on the earth in a way that uses less CO2 is essential to our survival.
“Taxing high CO2 polluters to fund the transition to a much more carbon-neutral way of living for everyone and creating better public health, affordable public transport and improved housing and buildings is essential to that vision.”
She said the Lib Dem amendment to her motion was “totally inadequate” and amounted to “greenwashing”, adding: “Putting a price on the burning of fossil fuels by creating a carbon tax is an equitable way to deliver that change; carbon pricing does not achieve this change.”
Councillor Warren, who proposed the amendment, said it was a shame councillor Wright declined her offer to collaborate to reach consensus on the issue.
She listed various efforts to reduce emissions but said: “This council is not doing enough in the face of the environmental emergencies – no council could, but we are doing a huge amount given the constraints upon us.”
She said carbon pricing could include a carbon tax but the details of the mechanism should be left to the Treasury.
Seconding the amendment, Lib Dem councillor Alastair Singleton said expert opinion was divided on the merits of a carbon tax versus an emissions trading scheme, while the idea of a citizens dividend is fraught with “complexity and scope for unintended consequences”.
“The degree of social and lifestyle change necessary to move from our current economic model marinated in hydrocarbons to one effectively free of them by mid-century will be unsettling and painful,” he said.
“In a democratic society this will only be achieved by consent and that consent will only come with a visible and total focus on social justice.
“The future of the planet and our place on it is quite simply too critical to be lost in a mire of personalities, arguments and abuse. Now if ever is the time to stand up and show the character necessary to pursue the common good.”
He challenged councillor Wright to rise above any “lingering resentments” and rediscover the ambition they once shared.
Labour group leader Robin Moss, who backed councillor Wright’s original motion, said he did not share councillor Warren’s belief in Treasury experts, adding: “I think the administration have missed an opportunity to take leadership.”
Lib Dem councillor Andy Furse said the council should be dealing with “easy wins closer to home” rather than “national grandstanding”, like banning space heaters or diesel generators when roadworks are going on.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter