Carbon tax must bring real change in behaviour related to climate change
The latest environmental levy should not be used to simply raise more revenue, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse says
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has urged the government to ensure that environmental taxes be clearly linked to real changes in behaviour.
The Carbon Tax Act, which has recently come into effect in SA, aims to penalise large emitters of greenhouse gases to minimise the climate risks. According to a recent report by the IMF, carbon tax is the best way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as it allows for a reduction in energy consumption, favours cleaner energies and provides much-needed revenues, which could be used to finance sustainable and more inclusive growth.
Outa’s executive director, Dr Heinrich Volmink, made the call to the government at a recent seminar on carbon tax organised by the Mail & Guardian and Webber Wentzel.
“It would be disastrous if an issue as critical as climate change was used to simply raise more revenue without a clear link to behavioural change or acceleration in climate change mitigation.”
The transport sector is a huge culprit when it comes to polluting the atmosphere and subsequently our cities, and according to citycarbonfootprints.com, Johannesburg ranks as the 13th worst polluted city in the world.
Outa says there should be tangible and visible alterations to SA’s reactions to the carbon tax.
He said that five other environmental taxes already exist. The plastic bag levy, the incandescent light bulb levy, the electricity levy, the CO₂ tax on vehicle emissions (2010/2011), and the tyre levy have raised R90.795bn but had had far less of an effect than expected.
One example he mentions is the plastic bag levy, which started at 3c per bag and is now 12c.
“The number of plastic bags produced per annum has actually gone up — from 2-billion in the first full year of the levy (2005/2006) to just under 2.6-billion bags in 2018/2019. So, what changes in behaviour have occurred?” Volmink said.
“Arguably, if the money collected from this tax had been used to drive the recycling industry, we may have seen some progress here.”
Volmink called for a discussion on ring-fencing at least part of such taxes.
“At the very least, the government should clearly show all of the revenue collected from environmental levies, including the carbon tax, on the one hand, and the total expenditure related to climate change mitigation on the other. Even if the revenue collected is recycled into the general fiscus, there should at least be some approximation between these two amounts,” said Volmink.
“A carbon tax, however, has a knock-on effect on consumers in the form of raised fuel prices and potentially increased living costs. Despite this, citizens should have the fiscal right to see the correlation between revenue collection and climate change mitigation in way that’s clearly understandable.”
He said the government should look at using the revenue collected from the carbon tax to support the introduction of new smarter mobility, such as electric vehicles or increased public transport.
In order to become a zero-emissions society, the electrification of transport is vital, said Generation.e co-founder and CEO Ben Pullen, who is putting together the Electric Vehicle Road Trip Africa (EVRT Africa) event in SA for the first time on October 2-10.
To do this, a shift from asset ownership to mobility as a service needs to take place, where the focus is more on getting people from A to B instead of their needing to own a car.
“After all, most private vehicles spend over 90% of their life parked. As such, a lot more effort needs to go into providing a range of safe, cost-effective and sustainable mobility solutions,” Pullen said.
The envisaged change in national behaviour should mimic that of the government’s already implemented initiatives, including the use and selection of environmentally friendly transport alternatives such as electric vehicle fleets at the City of Tshwane, and the departments of environmental affairs and trade & industry in Pretoria.
“Initiatives like these, as well as the continuous development of solutions such as the Gautrain, are already positive steps towards innovations away from vehicle use,” Pullen said.
“Ultimately the goal would be to work towards creating an environment where vehicles are not needed and instead bikes, scooters and public transport can be used, or the vehicles that are used are either electric, hybrid or reduced through car-pooling and ride-hailing services.
“Having taken the bold step in implementing the carbon tax and through the department of transport signing into law the first Green Transport Strategy, hopefully this will continue to drive the adoption of a sustainable and economically stimulating solution to curbing carbon emissions not only in SA, but throughout the entire continent,” he said.
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