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Faced with the increasingly certain prospect of widespread infrastructure failure related to climate change San Francisco is proposing an interesting new measure—a $12 a year property tax upon property owners. While taxation is not a new tool for battling climate change, this proposed tax is unique in that is aimed wholly at dealing with climate adaptation, as opposed to mitigation/ prevention.

Instead of encouraging consumers or producers to find ways of decreasing their carbon footprint—and thereby bringing about an overall reduction in emissions—this tax does not seek to change behaviour.

Carbon taxes of various stripes, for example, exist in many jurisdictions around the world and generally tax the consumption of emissions-producing products such as fossil fuels. The proposed San Francisco tax, on the other hand, is designed to generate funds that the city anticipates will be necessary to deal with some of the catastrophic effects of climate change. Officials hope to raise approximately $500 million over 20 years restore tidal marshes, which would help mitigate flooding anticipated to plague the area from rising sea levels. Rising sea levels associated with climate change is a huge threat to the Bay Area of California. One study estimates $62 billion worth of critical infrastructure is at risk.

Municipalities around the world are increasingly bracing for, and indeed already experiencing, the effects of climate change upon major infrastructure. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and other climate impacts will place tremendous strain upon existing municipal infrastructure.

We are seeing generally a shift in the focus of climate change-related legal and policy measures from those aimed at reducing GHG emissions to, increasingly, those aimed at adapting to climate impacts. The recently negotiated Paris Agreement, for example, included several measures designed to facilitate adaptation.

The citizens of the Bay Area will have the opportunity next month to vote on the tax. The tax has come under criticism for the fact that it imposes the same amount on all owners property, whether corporations or individuals, irrespective of annual income or revenue.

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