ENVIRONMENTAL TAXATION IN THE UK: THE CLIMATE CHANGE LEVY AND POLICY MAKING

John McEldowney, David Salter

Abstract


Environmental taxation is different from many other forms of taxation as it is not only used to raise revenue but it is also able to marginally influence behaviour to protect and enhance the environment. It provides valuable market led mechanisms to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, encourage sustainable behaviour and improve environmental performance to address climate change. The Post Paris (COP21) agreement provides a framework for global actions to address climate change and this sets the context for the discussion of environmental taxation.

Environmental taxes have enormous potential to change carbon usage. In 2012, the Coalition Government (2010-2015) opined that the definition of an environmental tax includes three principles, namely that the tax is explicitly linked to the government’s environmental objectives, that the primary objective of the tax is to encourage environmentally positive behaviour, and that the tax is structured in relation to environmental objectives, particularly the more polluting the behaviour the greater tax levied. The current Government has adopted and applied this definition. By way of contrast, the definitions of environmental taxation favoured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), respectively, give a wider remit for environmental taxation and policy making and include, for instance, various transport taxes which, as will be seen, do not fall within the Government’s definition of an environmental tax. The Climate Change Levy, which is the focus of this article, was introduced as one of a series of new environmental taxes on business energy use in 2001. It is charged on electricity, gas liquefied petroleum gas and solid fuels used by business.

Generally, environmental taxes are intended to increase investments in renewable technologies while reducing carbon emissions, but they are vulnerable to political influence and policy changes. Thus, the rationale for environmental or ‘Green’ taxes has shifted perceptibly to raising revenue rather than enabling government to meet its obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. Environmental taxes are also susceptible to oil prices and fluctuations in the global economy. The North Sea oil and gas industry is going through a difficult period of retrenchment. A recent independent report has suggested that the industry has two years to adjust to changing economic circumstances. Inevitably, this will impact on the tax revenues raised from this sector.

In an ideal world, environmental taxes should be easy to avoid through a change in behaviour and, consequently, hard to evade. Environmental taxes provide important means to achieve policy objectives, but their full potential requires public support and, especially, engagement by the business community. The future of environmental taxes may depend on the success of ‘green’ investment. There is a case for introducing a single climate tax on business. Undoubtedly, environmental taxes deserve greater attention in the economic toolbox to meet climate change commitments. The UK faces some difficult policy decisions under the Climate Change Act 2008 to meet the 2030 energy and climate change package targets. Currently, the UK receives 7.5 % of tax revenue from environmental taxes. To date, environmental taxation has had mixed outcomes in the UK, though few doubt its potential to define the future of carbon based energy use.

 


Keywords


Environmental Taxation, Climate Change Levy, Mirrlees Review, Carbon Taxes, Transport and Energy Taxes

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