Introducing a “T Climate Framework” to Address Climate Change  

A year’s worth of rain falls in the space of hours in the Henan province of China, leaving commuters trapped in the flooded subway system. A record-breaking 49.6°C heat is registered in British Columbia, Canada, hours before the weather station and its nearby town are devastated by a 200,000-acre forest fire. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake hits southwestern Haiti, triggering multiple tsunamis and causing more than 2000 fatalities.

These scenes are not a work of fiction but the hard reality of a brutal and unprecedented shift in climate that we have witnessed in the last year, with devastating consequences. The impact of human-caused climate disruption is accelerating:  the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 25% since 1958, average temperatures have risen by 1°C in less than a century, and the area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by 40% since 1979.[1] While significant damage has already been done, it is still possible to avoid the worst-case scenarios such as the IPCC’s “RCP 8.5” – over 4°C of warming and hundreds of millions of climate migrants – through decisive and concerted action. 

Learning from the experience with the tobacco industry

The fight against the tobacco industry bears striking similarities to the efforts required to curb climate change and can provide relevant insights for policymakers. Smoking habits have long been accepted and even encouraged despite an accumulation of scientific evidence of the dangers involved.  After several congressional hearings, published reports and high-profile court cases, it is now widely recognized that tobacco is an addictive drug killing 8 million each year through direct and indirect exposure.[2] When habits have been anchored for centuries, and so many financial and political interests are at stake, the turning of the tide of public opinion requires a relentless effort of education, communication, and leadership to build the right momentum for collective action. 

Significant taxes on tobacco products were progressively introduced by countries, as well as the promotion of substitutes (e.g. smoking patches) and government-sponsored therapies.  Singapore was the first country to ban tobacco advertising as early as 1971.  Australia started to enforce graphic warnings for all tobacco products in 1973 and implemented plain packaging later. 

The adoption of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 – more than 30 years after Singapore’s advertising ban – marked the first significant global collective action to curb smoking.  

More than 50 countries have now implemented a total ban on tobacco advertising. In 2018, 139 governments offered financial support to quit smoking. The results of these efforts are significant and quantifiable. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of active smokers decreased by more than 30%[3] through a combination of demand and supply-side regulation and incentives. Incisive action by policymakers and the development of healthier substitutes has helped reverse a public health emergency and drawn a roadmap for a tobacco-limited future.

While the war on tobacco has ultimately delivered measurable results, it has also been long and windy – and is far from over. Results were achieved progressively over time through trial and error of different policies by different countries. If the experience had to be repeated, governments would likely take a much more comprehensive and coordinated approach to tackle the tobacco healthcare challenge. 

What if the experience with the tobacco industry could be leveraged for countries to be more effective in tackling climate change?   

Taking comprehensive action on climate change: introducing the T Climate Framework (TCF)

Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have served as a foundation for collective action, informing the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, the Paris agreement and more recently, the European Climate Pact – in which EU countries must cut their greenhouse gases by at least 55% by 2030.

However, actions to date have not been enough to keep global warming below the critical threshold of +2°C identified by the IPCC.

How can governments leverage the successes of the war on tobacco to better address climate challenges in a more rapid and comprehensive manner? Building on the lessons from the tobacco industry, a framework for action is proposed below.

The T Climate Framework

The T Climate Framework is inspired by the most effective demand and supply policies that were progressively introduced to rein in the tobacco industry. In this framework, demand is understood as the aggregate consumption of individuals, while the actors providing goods and services through polluting processes are referred to as the supply side.

Demand side policies

  • Carbon pricing

Aim to make non-essential products and services carbon neutral through taxation. Reflecting carbon impact in the pricing of goods and services is a necessary step to

influence consumption habits while further raising awareness of climate change impact. This would not only include energy intensive products and services but also crops and cattle that contribute to deforestation and about half of total methane emissions.[4]  The IMF’s Carbon Price Floor (ICPF) proposal suggests setting a price on CO2 emitted of up to $75 per tonne, depending on a country’s income level[5]. The proposal requires governments to address key issues such as measurement, segmentation and political economy: measuring the full carbon impact of each product and service, determining which are essential, and convincing citizens that products and services should reflect their true cost to society.  

  • Advertising regulations

Enforce an advertising set-aside for sustainable products and services and consider an advertising ban for the most carbon-intensive ones. Reserving a given percentage of advertising slots for sustainable products and services serves the double goal of raising consumer awareness of ecological opportunities while limiting exposure for brands that do not respect environmental commitments. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) provides a framework for responsible environmental marketing, which could be developed to suggest set-asides for companies that meet certain environmental requirements.[6]  An even more ambitious goal would be to ban advertising for carbon-intensive products and services, as is currently the case for tobacco in over 130 countries.[7] 

  • Nudging

Adopt sustainability nudges to influence customer decision-making.  Solutions include inserting a text box on the product or service description to warn customers of its harmful consequences, using graphic warnings on packaging of carbon-intensive goods, adopting a sustainability scoring on all labels, and placing sustainable alternatives in clear view next to harmful products when available.  The UNEP’s “Little book on green nudges” provides a series of positive and gentle persuasions that could be adopted to positively influence customers at all levels.[8]

Supply-side policies

  • Greenwashing

Clamp down on greenwashing through tougher legislation. In 2021, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that as much as 40% of green claims in the private sector could be misleading.[9] To ensure that company claims are truthful, clear, and unambiguous, guidelines such as the CMA “Green Claims Code” can be adopted by governments alongside a heavy penalty system for non-compliant businesses. Specialized units dedicated to sustainability in countries’ Competition and Market Authorities should be tasked with monitoring and enforcement.

  • Tax incentives

Develop a win-win approach to sustainability through tax incentives. Tax incentives can be used to stimulate sustainable behaviour in companies. In the UK, the super deduction capital allowance offers a first-year tax relief of 130% on a set of company expenditures. Efforts should ramp up to the eventual introduction of eligibility barriers for access to state-sponsored financing and grants in key polluting sectors such as energy and agriculture, responsible for 92% of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Delivering impactful change, starting today

Drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 is the only way for the world to stay close to the 2°C threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. To meet the challenge of climate change, it is essential to get the most polluting countries to adopt a global policy framework inspired by tobacco control: mechanisms that cover both the demand and supply of the most carbon-intensive products and services. In a crisis, half-baked measures do not work. Governments must take swift, convincing and comprehensive action. It is time to treat climate change like the tobacco industry.

[1] Climate change impacts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2022

[2] IHME, Global Burden of Disease (2019)

[3] Share of adults aged 15 or older who smoke on a daily or non-daily basis, World Health Organization

[4] Methane is a greenhouse gas estimated to be 28 times more potent than CO2 (World Bank)

[5] “Proposal for an International Carbon Price Floor among Large Emitters”, IMF, June 2021

[6] ICC Framework for Responsible Environmental Marketing Communications

[7] WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021: addressing new and emerging products

[8] The Little Book of Green Nudges, United Nations Environment Programme, 2020

[9] CMA consumer protection press release, 28 January 2021


Anthony O’Sullivan- Partner & Director

Hugo Zlotowski- Senior Associate

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