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News | 10 October 2017

Joining forces to green the tax system


Environmental taxes can contribute to a healthier planet and healthier people, and encourage more responsible environmental behaviour among citizens. They also spur jobs and growth. Civil society organisations have a role to play in ensuring environmental taxes work, according to a new study commissioned by DG Environment. 

The study investigates civil society’s role in developing effective taxes for reducing pollution and managing natural resources. It covers issues such as air pollution, water stress, waste, resources and circular economy, water quality and marine litter, and biodiversity and land use.

There should be a natural cooperation to meet common goals – a clean environment and safeguarding resources for current and future generations.

NGOs, think-tanks and academia can play an important role in environmental tax reform, as illustrated by the different case studies. Their involvement ranges from initial problem identification and getting issues on to the policy agenda, through to policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

For example, the Hungarian NGO Clean Air Action Group kick-started discussions on an air pollution charge that was later adopted. Public and NGO pressure led to the introduction of the Austrian landfill tax, whilst academics, scientists and NGOs provided inspiration for ecological fiscal transfers in Portugal and biodiversity offsetting schemes in Germany.  

Boosting acceptance

Stakeholders also have an important contribution to make in the uptake and acceptance of new taxes. For example, the salmon fishing licence in Ireland was the outcome of meetings with 46 different agencies, organisations and individual stakeholders, leading to a perceived fair distribution of burdens among recreational and commercial fishers. Formal consultations on Swedish air pollution taxes, the Irish plastic bag levy, and the Slovenian Forest Act helped ensure each instrument’s acceptability and effectiveness.

Looking to the future, study authors Emma Watkins and Patrick ten Brink from the sustainability think-tank Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) said: “National governments should engage more with civil society organisations to promote change that has wide-ranging citizen support. Governments serve the public interest, and civil society organisations have their fingers on the pulse and provide a voice to the public.”

European Semester

Green taxes and phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies offer an effective and efficient way of achieving environmental policy objectives. While it is for the Member States to set up their taxation systems, the Commission is exploring the potential of environmental taxation in the context of the European Semester. With 40 case studies, this new report provides useful input for this process, as it presents lessons learnt from the successful use of market-based instruments to date.