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Carbon Tax

Taxing ‘public bads’ and investing in ‘public goods’: Constructive tax policies can help prevent harm and help promote progress

Christopher Colford's picture
To tax, or not to tax? That is the question that preoccupied a thought-provoking panel at a recent World Bank Group conference on “Winning the Tax Wars” – along with such pragmatic policy questions as: What products and behaviors should be taxed, aiming to discourage their use? How heavily should taxes be imposed to penalize socially destructive behaviors? If far-sighted, behavior-nudging taxes are indeed adopted, where should the resulting public revenue be spent?

Before memories start to fade about a stellar springtime conference – at which several of the Bank Group’s Global Practices (including those focusing on Governance and on Health, Nutrition and Population) assembled some of the world's foremost authorities on tax policy – it’s well worthwhile to recall the rigorous reasoning that emerged from one of the year’s most synapse-snapping scholarly symposia at the Bank.

Subtitled “Protecting Developing Countries from Global Tax Base Erosion,” the conference focused mainly on the international tax-avoidance scourge of Base Erosion and Profit-Shifting (BEPS). Coming just one week after a major conference in London of global leaders – an anti-corruption effort convened by Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom – the two-day forum in the Preston Auditorium built on the fair-taxation momentum generated by the recent Panama Papers disclosures. Those leaks about international tax-evasion strategies dominated the global policy debate this spring, when they exposed the rampant financial conniving and misconduct by high-net-worth individuals and multinational corporations seeking to avoid or evade paying their fair share of taxes.
 
The Bank Group conference, however, explored tax-policy issues that ranged far beyond the headline-grabbing disclosures about the scheming of rogue law firms and accounting firms, like the now-infamous Panama-based Mossack Fonseca and other outposts of the tax-dodging financial-industrial complex. Conference-goers also heard intriguing analyses about how society can levy taxes on “public ‘bads’ ” to promote investment in “public ‘goods’ ” – as part of the broader quest for broad-scale tax fairness.
 
"Winning The Tax Wars" via revenue-raising strategies

Natural Capital Accounting: Going beyond the numbers

Stig Johansson's picture
Guatemala. World Bank

Here are some facts that you might not know: Do these numbers just seem like bits of trivia? In fact, these are all important results that came out of natural capital accounting (NCA) – a system for generating data on natural resources, such as forests, energy and water, which are not included in traditional statistics. NCA follows standards approved by the United Nations to ensure trust, consistency and comparison across time and countries.
 
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.

Monday after climate week

Rachel Kyte's picture

 Connect4Climate


Sitting on the train heading back from New York to Washington D.C., gazing out of the window at stressed watersheds, I had some time to reflect on a very special Climate Week. What does it all add up to? Where does it leave us as a global community needing speed and scale in our climate action?

Much is being written. Let me add a perspective. Here are three thoughts amid my swirl of memories, moments and impressions.

Climate osmosis – the street reaches the hallowed halls

It was difficult to stand in the canyon that is 6th Avenue, with a sea of people stretching in both directions – environmental activists, nurses, pensioners, business people, every possible faith community, moms, a sprinkling of celebrity and a dash of statesmen – and not be moved. On the Sunday before the Summit, more than half a million people took to the streets in People’s Climate Marches in New York and more than 160 countries across the globe. The marchers demanded climate action from their leaders, suggesting that the politics of climate action, once considered too hard to handle, might no longer be as difficult as leaders think.

The reverberations continued for 48 hours and became a point of reference in almost every speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Leadership Summit. More than 120 heads of state and government came to hint and in some cases pledge action on climate change. New coalitions of governments, businesses, investors, multilateral development banks and civil society groups announced plans to mobilize over $200 billion for low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Forests and cities were big winners, landing pledges of around $450 million for forests and bringing together more than 2,000 cities in a new Compact of Mayors to help improve accounting of urban greenhouse gas emissions and the actions cities are taking to reduce them.

British Columbia’s carbon tax shift: An environmental and economic success

Stewart Elgie's picture

British Columbia. Brian Fagan/Flickr Creative Commons

By Stewart Elgie, Professor of Law & Economics at University of Ottawa and Chair of Sustainable Prosperity; Ross Beaty, Chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power; and Richard Lipsey, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University.

 

We often hear claims that a carbon tax would destroy jobs and growth. Yet the evidence from a Canadian province that actually passed such a tax – British Columbia – tells a very different story.

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that B.C.’s policy has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. Far from a “job killer,” it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon constrained world.

Putting A Price on Carbon: Nations Opt For Market-Based Solutions

Xueman Wang's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Climate change is a threat to global development and to poverty alleviation. And yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is proving difficult because all players in an economy contribute to the problem. To make a difference, we must reduce our emissions in a coordinated manner.

This is no easy task. So where do we go from here?

One approach involves pricing the “externalities” that are contributing to climate change. Pricing externalities into the costs of production is nothing new. A classic textbook example is the paper mill that sits upstream from a fishing village.

Discharge from the mill pollutes the river, diminishing the fishermen’s catch. The mill freely uses the water of the river in its production of paper, but does not pay for the damage of the negative externality that it causes. To remedy the situation, regulations can be put in place to stop waste from going into the river – or the mill can pay a fine equivalent to the loss of the fishermen’s revenue.

The latter is an example of an externality priced into the cost of production. The same can be done to combat climate change.

In this case, carbon emissions are the externality that must be priced. Doing so provides a cost-effective and efficient means to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the cost of such pollution goes up.

Set the Right Price on Carbon and Investors Will Come

Karin Rives's picture

 Dana Smillie/World Bank

This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.

The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.

Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.

Can Carbon Taxes Be Effective?

Muthukumara Mani's picture

Arne Hoel/World BankIt was heartening to attend the recent Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) forum at the World Bank, where countries renewed their commitments to testing and piloting market-based instruments for greenhouse gas emission reduction. The PMR is country-led and builds on countries’ own mitigation priorities. Focus is placed on improving a country's technical and institutional capacity for using market instruments to scale up climate change mitigation efforts.