How green taxes will shake up life in the UK

The Government has pledged to end the country’s contribution to man-made global warming by 2050, requiring the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero.

So far there’s been little detail on how the Government intends to meet this vital goal – and how it will be funded.

While the policy can be summed up in a sentence, the measures needed to achieve it are far more complex. What we do know is they are likely to lean heavily on taxation and incentives…

What is net-zero?

Net-zero means reaching an overall balance between greenhouse gases emitted and those removed.

Getting to net-zero carbon emissions will require a range of actions:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Offsetting remaining emissions by removing greenhouse gases
  • Planting more trees or creating ‘carbon sinks‘ to absorb CO2.

How can it be achieved

The Treasury has claimed that cutting carbon so far, so fast could cost the UK economy £1 trillion by 2050.

But while the UK joins a growing number of countries, to adopt net-zero targets, none has yet implemented clear policies to achieve them in the near term.

Most likely the Government will introduce a range of taxes, incentives and penalties. These will encourage business and consumers to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency. Here are some examples.

  • Regulating out high-carbon products.
  • Subsidising low-carbon technologies to drive cost reduction
  • Taxing high-carbon activities, particularly in key sectors such as the energy, vehicle, aviation & shipping, housing, agriculture and waste sectors.

Some idea of the scale of change can be found in the report of the Committee for Climate Change (CCC), which advises the Government; and in proposals from the London School of Economics. The LSE has advocated using new and existing taxes to set a ‘carbon price’ of between £40 and £100 per tonne of carbon-dioxide-equivalent (tCO2e).

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Agriculture

In farming, Brexit could be an opportunity to shift the focus of farming subsidies to encourage low carbon agriculture.

The CCC recommends financial payments in the new UK Agriculture Bill be linked to actions to reduce emissions from 2022. LSE suggests a tax on red meat that would equate to an additional £0.23/kg of beef and £0.46/kg lamb in 2020, rising to £0.70 and £1.41 in 2050 respectively.

Transport

Transport is the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gases, transport.

The CCC wants the Government to bring forward a ban on fossil fuel-powered cars to 2035. Alongside this, it argues from the 2020s onwards vehicle and fuel taxation should incentivise commercial operators to buy and run zero-emission HGVs. Air passenger duty should also be reformed.

The LSE’s ideas include adding 10p per litre to fuel duty in 2020, rising to 14p per litre in 2050. In aviation and shipping, LSE  proposes a tax on international transport fuels.

Construction

Advisors say incentives are needed to spur the huge changes that will be required across the economy. The CCC advocates this to encourage low carbon building design and construction techniques.

Other industries

The CCC report argues the Government must incentivise other industries to reduce emissions through energy and resource efficiency, electrification, and the capture and storage of hydrogen and carbon.

Longer-term, it suggests international sectoral agreements, procurement and product standards that would require consumers to buy or use low-carbon products or through border-tariff adjustments that reflect the carbon content of imports.

Potential pitfalls

The Government has a patchy track record when it comes to decarbonisation policies – past initiatives, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and Green Deal have fallen short of expectations, often because they have lacked the underpinning evidence base to ensure effectiveness.

The CCC has made clear that 2% of annual GDP needs to be invested if the UK is to meet its 2050 net-zero target

But in the Government’s latest spending round, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was awarded just a 2.2% increase in its resource budget for 2020-2021, with only £30m going towards new projects to accelerate the UK’s progress to net-zero emissions.

Campaigners and politicians were quick to criticise the amount of cash earmarked for the net-zero target as falling “woefully short”.

In summary

The Government has not filled in the details of how it intends the UK to fulfil its carbon-neutral pledge. However, such a big objective will involve tax and regulatory changes that touch almost every area of life.

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AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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