In an eye-catching move, the UK government's environment minister David Miliband has floated the idea of personal swipe cards for each citizen in the country, which would carry points equating to a carbon allowance.

Mr Miliband is apparently keen to test the scheme, which is loosely based on the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). Under the plans, the most energy inefficient consumers would spend the most points from their allowance, while those who emitted least carbon (such as non-car owners, for example) could return excess credits to a central bank.

Indeed, under Mr Miliband’s undeniably bold vision, the UK could become the first country to develop what the minister terms a ‘carbon currency’. Mr Miliband hopes that the plans would work to help counteract fuel poverty, by penalizing the most conspicuous consumers (generally the most affluent) and rewarding the most responsible, who would generally be poorer. However some critics argue that the scheme could force the elderly to turn off heating in winter to save points, for example.

We carry bank cards that store both pounds and carbon points, Mr Miliband said in a speech to the Audit Commission.

When we buy electricity, gas and fuel, we use our carbon points, as well as pounds. To help reduce carbon emissions, the government would set limits on the amount of carbon that could be used.

People on low incomes are likely to benefit as they will be able to sell their excess allowances. People on higher incomes tend to have higher carbon emissions due to higher car ownership and usage, air travel and tourism, and larger homes, he added.

It is more empowering than many forms of regulation because instead of banning particular products, services or activities, or taxing them heavily, a personal carbon allowance enables citizens to make trade-offs.

It is also empowering because many citizens want to be able to do their bit for the environment and tackle climate change, but there is no measurable way of guiding their decisions.

Personal carbon tradeable allowances is one of a number of ways the government is looking at how individuals can be better informed and involved in tackling climate change. However the plans exceed those laid out in the government’s recent energy review, and are sure to trigger keen debate on individuals’ role in battling climate change.

The ‘personal ETS’ would see the points allocations managed via a smartcard system, with every individual in the UK allotted the same amount of credits initially.