Climate change and global warming have long been debated, but what is certain is that consumers are going to pay a great deal more in taxes dedicated to creating a more friendly environment.
In South Africa, the motorist in particular has been targeted. On June 1, a new carbon tax will have an immediate impact through a 9cents a litre increase in the price of petrol and a 10c a litre rise in the price of diesel.
One of the earliest environmentally focused taxes introduced by the government that had a direct impact on consumers was the plastic bag levy, which was implemented in 2004.
Government revenue from this levy – 12c for every plastic bag – rose by R9million to R242m in 2017/18.
Motorists were also targeted in 2008, when the introduction of an emissions tax increased the price of every new vehicle purchased.
The National Automobile Association of South Africa’s Dr Norman Lamprecht said this tax, which was included in the price of every new vehicle, was invisible to consumers and amounted to, on average, 3% of the purchase price.
He said the tax had been increased a few times since inception, but new fuel efficiency technology in vehicles had, to some extent, offset the impact.
He said it was worrying that, taking into account all the various taxes such as ad valorem duties and import tariffs, 42% of the proceeds from the purchase – excluding interest charges – of every new vehicle now went to the government.
Jerome Brink, a senior associate in the tax and exchange control practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published a paper that found that South Africa had the 18th highest environmentally related tax revenue of 34 OECD and five partner economies.
In South Africa, tax on energy represented 93% of environmentally related tax revenue, compared with 70% on average among 39 comparative countries.
South Africa had higher tax rates on fuel used not just for transport but also heating, processing and electricity generation, the study found.
Yet more environmental taxes were on the way.
The Treasury announced in the last Budget it would publish a draft Environmental Fiscal Reform Policy paper this year, which would broaden environmental taxes, and consider possible new taxes to address air pollution and climate change, promote efficient water use, reduce waste and encourage better waste management.
A tax on “single use” plastics, caps, beverage cups, lids and containers to curb their use and encourage recycling was also being investigated.
There are some environmentally focused tax incentives for taxpayers, which might benefit business owners in particular. For instance, the Section 12B allowance on renewable energy assets provides for an accelerated depreciation allowance for plant, machinery, implements, utensils and articles used in the production of renewable energy in the course of one’s trade.
Section 12D deductions for electricity transmission lines grants taxpayers an allowance on the acquisition cost incurred in bringing electricity transmission lines into use, as well as support structures for those lines.
The Section 12L energy efficiency savings allowance allows any person registered with the South African National Energy Development Institute to claim a deduction for energy efficiency savings from any trade.
Section 12N relates to improvements to property not owned by taxpayers if the improvements are associated with the Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme administered by the Department of Energy.