The Implementation of Personal Carbon Accounts

  • Martin Burgess

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Behaviour changes around domestic fuel use are essential to meet government emissions targets: unlikely without widespread transformation in individuals thinking about heat and mobility. Government policy options are examined, concluding that social change could be underpinned by a Personal Carbon Account to collate individual’s fuel use from all sources. A version was investigated and rejected by the UK Government in 2006-08 on the basis of cost and social unacceptability, with additional concern about distributional impacts. In the PhD this scheme is initially reformulated to avoid some of its distributional issues. Later, this original scheme is reformulated again to eliminate the least popular elements, being the carbon trading market with variable price carbon allowances dependent on supply and demand, and the overall economy-wide cap on carbon allowances. These are replaced with low-priced, fixed-price allowances which are bought and sold as an administrative rather than a trading function. The re-pricing accords with behaviour change theory. The revised scheme was tested in focus groups in 2018. Detailed examination of the emissions of lower income households shows that occupant behaviour is crucial and the most important factor relating emitting more than allocated allowances, albeit tantalisingly intangible. Under-occupation of dwellings (having spare bedrooms) is the single largest tangible indicator. Both are true for households in poverty and throughout the income scale and both involve some degree of occupant volition or choice: if ‘choice’ contributes to over-emissions it perhaps lessens political obstacles to the scheme’s introduction. The cost/benefit analysis was updated for better communications technology (broadband, smartphones) and to include fuel savings, whose omission in the 2008 analysis was, in the author’s opinion, a fundamental error. It shows that achievable fuel savings - around 0.8% -enable ‘break even’, removing ‘cost’ as a barrier to implementation. The thesis concludes that the revised Personal Carbon Accounts concept is practical, financially justifiable and if framed appropriately, socially acceptable.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMark Whitehead (Supervisor), Jesse Heley (Supervisor) & Marc Welsh (Supervisor)


  • PCAs
  • sustainability
  • behaviour change

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