Carbon Fee (and Dividend) Resolution Passed at Churchwide (2019)

The following Synod Resolution was passed by the SC Synod of Wisconsin and passed at Churchwide Assembly in 2019.  See links within text for background information. For more material to consider when talking about “carbon” see this post as well.
Please contact us if you intend to propose a similar resolution.

Carbon Fee (and Dividend)

1. South-Central Synod of Wisconsin (5K) [2019]

Whereas this synod became the first major religious denominational body to join the growing secular movement to address greenhouse gas emission causing climate change; with the landmark 2017 resolution endorsing Carbon Fee and Dividend; and

Whereas this synod’s advocacy continues with current congressional legislation for Carbon Fee and Dividend, HR 763, “The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act”; and

Whereas the urgency for action becomes ever more apparent for all of God’s creation—plants and animals, human lives, and entire ecosystems—especially on behalf of the most vulnerable; therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin memorialize the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to encourage ELCA members to learn about and advocate for a national strategy for Carbon Fee and Dividend.


The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that increases in greenhouse gases (GHGs) released into the atmosphere impact the climate globally, resulting in more frequent and intense extreme weather patterns that destabilize the environment. This destabilization impacts everyone—contributing to forced migration, exacerbation of poverty, national security concerns, food insecurity, shifts in sea habitats, increased health risks and threats to ecosystems that could lead to the extinction of some species. Climate change mitigation measures must be implemented rapidly according to the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in order to avoid irreversible damage. The 2018 fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment states that without sufficient mitigation efforts to achieve decarbonization, climate change will have significant impacts on the American economy and quality of life. One mitigation tool is a carbon-pricing mechanism, known as carbon fee or carbon tax. A carbon fee or tax is a policy tool that provides a financial incentive to reduce GHG emissions by attaching a price to emissions (CO² emissions or multiple GHGs) or their emission inputs, namely fossil fuels.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) March 2019 Report, “economic modeling indicates that a carbon tax would achieve emission reductions, the level of which would depend on which GHG emissions and sources are covered and the rate of the carbon tax.” A carbon tax would increase energy costs while producing significant revenue for the U.S.

Implementation of a carbon tax presents challenges relative to its design and implementation, consequences of the imposed taxes and how to distribute the generated revenue. CRS finds that “policymakers would encounter trade-offs among objectives. The central trade-offs involve minimizing economy-wide costs, lessening the costs borne by specific groups—particularly low-income households—and supporting a range of specific policy objectives.” Lower-income households tend to spend a greater portion of their income on energy needs. Also, those communities that depend upon fossil fuel energy would be disproportionately impacted. This memorial is supported by the social statement Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All, which calls for “scrutiny of how specific policies and practices affect people and nations that are the poorest, and changes to make policies of economic growth, trade, and investment more beneficial to those who are poor.”

This memorial furthers the ministry of the ELCA by being another tool to implement goal four, objective five of Future Directions 2025: “Lead and participate in national and global advocacy efforts to advance gender justice, climate justice and human rights, and to alleviate poverty and hunger, engaging church networks and joining with ecumenical partners, leaders of other faiths and the global church.”

A carbon fee and dividend appears to be one of many potential mitigation policy tools to remedy the impact of climate change, but there are many challenges presented by implementation of such a policy tool. It is important for ELCA members to learn about the carbon fee and dividend and its implementation to make informed decisions to ensure the tax and potential dividend causes no harm to any sector, community or people. Research will be needed to develop education awareness of carbon pricing and the various avenues for distribution of dividends, and to evaluate what, if any, national advocacy strategy should be framed. Addressing carbon pricing is part of the 2019 ELCA Advocacy priorities and is not likely to require additional resources for educational awareness except for communication resources.

Recommended for Assembly Action

To receive with gratitude the memorial from the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin concerning Carbon Fee and Dividend;

To reaffirm the commitment of this church to engage in advocacy that seeks sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all; and

To refer to the Domestic Mission unit for the development of a plan that promotes educational resources on Carbon Fee and Dividend to assist in forming the basis for any potential advocacy strategy.