THE ROLE AND IMPACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL TAXATION TOWARDS CLEANER ENVIRONMENT: AN OVERVIEW
UNIVERSITY TEKNOLOGI MARA, KAMPUS BANDAR, MELAKA
22 FEBRUARI 2010
The implementation of environmental taxation will give significant impact to the country. In general, the government has the objectives to increase revenue and reduce the pollution activities hence will result with a clean environment. This objective is to support the double dividend theory. This paper is a result from the past literature review discussed on various issues regarding the environmental taxation. The discussion includes the issues on double dividend theory, the optimal environmental tax policy, the changes in the behavioural effect, the distortionary effect from the implementation, the emission tax and the impact to the parties involved in the environmental taxes implementation. The argument on the double dividend policy will be focussed as the main issues since it gives a significant impact on the implementation of environmental taxation. This is because the environmental taxes are benefited to government but it is assumed to have some unintended effect. Therefore, government must have an optimal environmental taxes policy. Further discussion is on revenue-recycling activities in order to refund the government revenue to the public. As a result, what are the impacts to the public as government has given them incentives to encourage them to clean the environment and reduce the pollution. In the conclusion, it will show the current environmental taxes system in Malaysia.
Key words: Environmental taxes, double dividend, government revenue
The concern towards greener environment has become the most important global issue recently. Environmental issues have been broadly discussed formally and informally by the government, firms, Non-Government Organisation (NGOs), and the society as a whole. The increasing demand of good attitude and behaviour toward cleaner environment is very crucial. One of the reasons is due to the responsibility to reduce the pollution as a result of increasing concern about the quality of the natural environment. Second reason is concerning the cost to clean up the environment since it involves higher costs to combat pollution. The focus of the problem is which resources are needed by the government to combat the pollution or as a deterrent toward polluting the environment. The introduction of environmental taxation or imposing levy to the polluter is worth considering from the taxes charged; the government or authorities will be able to generate fund and recycling back the revenue for combating the pollution. In order to encourage firm to contribute to the greener environment, various incentives has and will be given to them by government. The government objectives are to educate firms and society (taxpayers) toward reducing pollution and improving the quality of the environment. Indeed, by introducing the tax system it will benefit the government as well as the industries and consumers.
This paper is organized as follows. The first section highlights on the definition and the perceived attractiveness of environmental taxation to public policy maker. Section two will cover on the environmental taxes together with the optimal environment taxes to arrive at the optimal environmental tax system. Section three will provide the issue and challenges of environmental taxation towards greener environment. Issues of environmental taxes will be discussed in order to know the emergence of the environmental tax implemented by the government. Also, this section will examine the challenges towards greener environment which includes the methodology used by past researchers. Section four will discuss the impact of the environmental taxes as a whole.
What is an environmental taxation?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines environmental taxes as both taxes which have been introduced to achieve a specific environmental objective, and explicitly identified as environmental taxes and taxes which were introduced initially for non-government reasons, but which impact on environmental objectives, and which may be increasingly modified or reduced for environmental reasons (Schofield & Manisty , 2009)
Jaeger, (2003) stated that environmental taxation refers to an emission or fee collected by government and levied per unit of pollution emitted into the air or water. Bluffstone, (2003) defines the environmental taxes as the fees levied for the purposes of raising revenue and/or altering the behaviour of economic agents vis-a-vis the environment. Example of environmental taxes include fees on pollution emissions by factories, gasoline taxes, charges on environmentally damaging products and taxes on production inputs that damage the environment.
By implementing the environmental taxes, it would enhance the environmental quality and raise revenue. Besides, the roles of environmental taxes hve recently become significant. Every polluter would pay for the costs of the damage caused by pollution; for each unit they emit, they would be levied (Arregui, (2003); Paras, (1999)). The main idea to levy the emission product is to make it more expensive to pollute as a result the polluting firm would try to reduce their levied on emission in order to pay lesser taxes. Environmental taxes can play a role as a policy instrument for environmental control, deterrent towards polluting the environment and will reduce emission in order to avoid paying the tax (Jaeger, (2003)). The inclusion of tax on each unit of pollution emitted means that, firms will have to incorporate social as well as private costs in production decisions. The focus is more on price mechanism which will result in a more efficient and lower the overall compliance costs. Firms would try to reduce their emissions with the lowest costs of taxes either through the deployment of new technology or through process changes. Furthermore, by internalising negative externalities, environmental taxes can force market to recognise the environmental costs they impose on societies as a result of their activities, potentially creating strong incentives for firms to do their best to reduce environmental damage (Bluffstone, (2003)).
Despite the benefit of environmental taxation, there are some drawbacks of environmental taxation which may prevent to achieve its objectives. For example, a strong incentive exists to reduce pollution levels up to the point where the costs of reducing pollution may become higher than the environmental taxes (Verbeke & Coeck, 1997). It shows that the revenue-recycling policy is not effective anymore. As a result, the authorities should take corrective actions towards their current environmental taxes system. The introduction of optimal taxation is important in order to achieve the environmental taxes objectives as well as to implement a good and efficient environmental tax policy.
The optimal taxation system is very important to those countries which have already implemented the environmental taxation. Since the government earned revenue through taxation, the issues of efficiency, equity and political reasons arise regarding the use of the revenue particularly in resource-poor developing and transition countries. The questions on the optimal environmental tax rate will always be an issue, and what is the level of tax rate that is considered sufficient to cover the environmental protection.
According to Jaeger, (2003) the discussion on optimal taxation is focussed on the revenue-raising capital to finance public expenditure in an efficient manner and distributional impact across income groups. Jaeger, (2003) also mentioned about the existence of non-distortionary taxes and distortionary taxes which are unavoidable. The tax policy issued is actually discussed within the raising-revenue and the other to correct externalities. Besides, Bluffstone, (2003) has discussed the environment tax policy for developing and transition countries based on the examination of first-best environmental taxes, second-best and third best. First-best environmental taxes or fully efficient level of environment protection effectively balances the costs and benefits of environmental protection and therefore maximise the total net benefits to society (Bluffstone, (2003)). The total benefit depends on the tastes, preferences and income whereas the total costs depend on the investments and other methods required improving the environmental quality. Second-best would differ from the first best in terms of the levels of environmental efforts which focus more on the aspects of efficiency rather than quantity of efforts while trying to achieve the cost effective solution. The multi-tiered structure was introduced when the level of pollution tax rate is very low or zero and no incentive was given. The third-best environmental taxes will be those levied on products or inputs rather than actual environmental performance. Examples of environmental tax on products include a variety of energy taxes, diesel fuel, electricity, heating oil and natural gas (Bluffstone, 2003). According to Bluffstone, (2003) the third-best taxes may be the first-best in the developing and transition countries. Bluffstone, (2003) concludes that tax administration in developing countries is often weak if environmental taxes are included in environmental policy portfolios. Sadler, 2001 supported the issue of optimal environmental taxation using the first-best, second-best and third best environmental taxes. Besides, Sadler, (2001) has identified certain drawbacks on that policy. He then introduced the optimal tax framework which focussed on the environment as a major component of the efficiency criterion. Sadler, (2001) has discussed the optimal tax criteria i.e. efficiency, equity, administration, compliance, and revenue which include subcategories and provide a framework to understand the important objectives and trade-offs of environmental taxation. The presence of policy trade-offs would result in the regulators being unable to achieve the environmental objectives. Such policy trade-offs include revenue instability and maximise yield, revenue yield and adequacy, environment quality and administrative cost, enforcement and compliance, and efficiency and revenue functions. Furthermore, balancing the trade-offs of each objectives has become a portfolio choice of regulators (Sadler, (2001)). However, there is no structured optimal environmental taxes policy from the three researchers above. The appropriate policy would depend on the choice of policy goals, their corresponding attributes, and the trade-offs of policy design (Sadler, (2001). The choice of good environmental taxes policy to arrive the optimal environment tax system will bring some problem or issue towards its implementation.
ISSUES ON ENVIRONMENTAL TAXES IMPLEMENTATION
The implementation of environmental taxation will raise issues that lead into discussion among the environmental economists. For example Morgenstern, (1996) stated that since the late 1980s, a number of prominent environmental economists have taken Pigou’s logic one step further, arguing that the substitution of environmental taxes for existing taxes on labour and capital could yield environmental gains at little or no cost, a so-called “double dividend.”
The reasons for implementing environmental taxation are to improve the environmental quality as well as to generate revenue and the revenue received will be used to reduce distortionary. But to what extend is this statement correct? According to Bovernberg, (1999) he has stated that the double dividend can be divided into two existing policy that are strong form of double dividend and weak form of double dividend. Weak form of double dividend relates with the additional revenue which are recycled in the form of lower distortionary taxes compared if the revenue recycled in a lump-sum fashion. The argument is according to grandfathered pollution permits or regulation, the rent associated with the cut in emissions accrues as a lump-sum benefit to the polluters rather than the government (Bovenrberg, 1999). On the other hand, the researcher claims that the strong double dividend fail to achieve its objectives since the model introduced by Bovenberge, (1999) requires non-environmental dividend to be involved which gives impact on the expansion of the employment. As discussed earlier, the concept of double dividend requires equity and efficiency. Once government decides to use revenue to compensate polluters such conflicts may arise such as desire to boost employment and reduce non-environmental distortions in tax system. Furthermore, there is a fear from the polluters on the revenue generating from the environmental taxation. Normally polluters are concerned more on the benefits arise from what they had paid for the pollution activities.
Argument by Morgenstern, (1996) stated that by implementing the environmental taxes it will raise costs to the buyers and tends to reduce individuals’ welfare by more than the revenues they generated. Besides, he also argued on the success of the double dividend theory where all environmental policy will increase the distortions caused by conventional taxes. For example the increased charges on the price of pollution product will result the person to put extra time on their work and this tax will probably discourage work effort, reducing income and economic well-being.
Further argument by Verbeke and Coeck, 1997, stated that the objective of the government to raise revenue through the higher level of tax will give a negative perspective to the firm. The higher tax level will drastically change the attitude and behavioural of the firm. Significantly, firm will push to reduce the pollution level thus lead to a further reduction in public income. These unintended effects will increase the bad perspective from the firm as they can claim that the environmental policy designed is perceived as unfair system of taxation and cheating behaviour (firms may involve in environmental tax avoidance or evasion and lead to a relocation of production facilities).
Another issue discussed by the researcher is regarding the introduction of an emission trading scheme in the WTO member by Cendra, 2006. In his article, he argued that whether a WTO member introducing an emissions trading scheme (ETS) would be able to couple it with a border tax adjustment to protect the competitive positions of (some of) the industry within its territory (Cendra, 2006). The main issues discussed are whether the design, architecture and structure of the scheme will discriminate between domestic and imported products or not and later it must show clearly that the introduction of ETS is does not to achieve trade-restrictive objectives. Other issues discussed are the impact on competitiveness where stringent allocations and the increase on the electricity price due to the electricity producers consider the price of allowance as opportunity costs. Indeed, the integration of revenue raising-taxation and corrective taxation underlies the set of issues surrounding the “double dividend hypothesis” (Jaeger, 2003). All the issues arise from the implementation of environmental taxation by the government will later become the challenges to the government, authorities, firms and consumer as a whole.
CHALLENGES TOWARDS ENVIRONMENTAL TAXATION
The implementation of the environmental taxes will create challenges to the authorities, firms and people. One challenge discussed by Bluffstone, (2003) is the effects of environmental protection measures on environmental quality and on people’s valuations of the environment. The measurement of the physical improvements associated with reduced environmentally harmful behaviour is itself quite a challenge (Bluffstone, 2003). The challenge is focussed on the marginal costs and marginal benefit. A marginal cost normally is very private information to the company and it gives problems to the regulators. Firms tend to overstate their cost since the higher costs will reduce the efficient level of environmental protection effort. It is therefore very hard to find example anywhere regarding a true Pigouvian tax that has been implemented. Furthermore, Bluffstone, (2003) discussed the challenge to the government when the implementation of environmental taxes system is based on the environmental performance. Under this basis, there is a requirement for monitoring of environment parameters and enforcement of regulation is needed. Since the majority of firms in developing countries is small, therefore monitoring is difficult and enforcement is costly. As a result, monitoring activities are carried out rarely. Besides, second-best taxes require those who damage the environment should pay more and there is a need for the enforcement of payment. Unfortunately, in the developing countries, since the enforcement system is weak, the implementation of environmental tax system will become a major challenge to the authorities.
The validity of the double dividend hypothesis has been challenged by many researchers. The argument regarding the distortionary costs will offset the positive revenue-recycling effect and therefore is against the objective of the implementation of the environmental taxes. The conflict between raising revenues and protecting the environment exists because an environmental levy reduces pollution by encouraging taxpayers to avoid taxes (Bovernberg, 1999). So the challenge to the government is how to set an optimal environmental tax system in order to achieve the double dividend hypothesis successfully. Governments should focus on achieving the behavioural effects, rather than mere financial results (Verbeke and Coeck, 1997).
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY USED
Based on the articles reviewed, majority of the researchers are used model as part of the methodology, three researchers used literature review and case study, three researchers used past literature review and framework and only two researchers used surveys in their research. Normally researchers who used model tried to find the relationship between variables, comparison between variables and using the hypothesis to test the fact or believe whether the statement is true of false. For example Stand, 1999 is did a study on constrained efficient environmental policy when workers and firms bargain over wages and pollution-reducing investments made by firms before any bargain are struck. The researcher made an assumption on the pollution tax used to subsidize firm’s hiring. The assumption is used to test whether it supported the double dividend theory by assuming that the government revenue from the pollution tax is transferred back to firms in their entirety. From the assumption, the researcher identified that it supported the double dividend theory since the increasing in tax will result the decrease in pollution, increased in labour and also increasing the government utility at the margin for both changes. This solution will greatly support the “true double dividend” theory. There are a few more assumptions that the researcher has tested in this article and most of the assumptions supported the double dividend theory.
The surveys use were normally to analyze the impact of environmental taxes through the use of empirical data. For example Verbeke And Coeck, 1997 have demonstrated the conceptual framework through the use of empirical data resulting from a large scale survey across the industry. The researchers have developed two conceptual frameworks which are the short-term effects and dynamic effects of environmental taxation. Furthermore, a review from past literature is used to see the impact of the environmental taxes towards countries. For example Bluffstone, (2003) has developed the theory of environmental taxation with special reference to developing countries and countries with economies in transition based on past literature. The discussions of the findings are then supported by past literature. Another methodology used by the researchers was a case study. Case study is used to see the real impact on the implementation of the environmental taxes on certain product. For example Convey et. al. (2007) has analysed the plastic bag levy success story and provided insights and general guidelines for other jurisdictions planning similar proposals.
IMPACT ON ENVIRONMENTAL TAXATION IMPLEMENTATION
Once the government has implemented the environmental taxes to their country, various impacts will be derived from the implementation. The discussion on implication is not only to the government but it will cover all parties involved either directly or indirectly towards the implementation of the environmental taxation. The impact can be seen as the benefits and dynamic effects on environmental taxes. The objectives of government by implementing environmental taxes are to increase revenue and to improve the environment quality. The revenue collected should be able to redistribute fairly for the benefit of the society. The government must have good environmental tax system in order to determine that the revenue-recycling activities will benefit all and will improve the higher welfare gain. Despite the higher environmental tax, government should be able to balance the situation by lowering the distortionary cost of financing and the provision of public goods. Due to the higher environmental tax, in the long run it will change the behavioural attitudes towards the pollution. The level of awareness will become higher and polluter is tried to reduce the pollution activities. As a result, the revenue collection will decrease. Therefore, the government should be able to have a policy trade-off to balance the situation. If the government is concerned more on the behavioural impact compared to fiscal policy, any reduction in the pollution volumes will be seen as a contribution to the effectiveness of the environmental taxation system and environmental policy in general. In contrast, the environmental tax will, in principle, confront the polluting firms with the external costs they create, at any level of pollution (Verbeke and Coeck, 1997). Government has introduced a strong incentive to reduce the pollution until that the cost to reduce the pollution is higher than the environmental taxes. The incentive is also includes the invention on the new production technologies with pollution-reducing properties. To balance the revenue-raising and incentive, government should have a sound environmental tax policy.
Furthermore, the optimal level of environmental quality and the higher revenue-raising tax will generally lower the level of pollution and hence, it will result a cleaner environment. The clean environment will directly benefit the society in terms of better health and quality of life.
In addition, the revenue-raising tax will also discourage the consumption of goods and services especially those goods that harm the environment either when produced or consumed (Jaeger, 2003). Firms should not consider that the environmental tax as a burden or increasing cost to the company but there must be ready to integrate the environmental issues into their corporate strategy. Furthermore, the inclusion of environmental issue and policy in the financial statement reporting by firm may contribute to an increase in their market share and profit margins creating from an increase in their intangible assets value.
The impact can also be seen in some countries which are in weak environmental policy. Such policies are transboundary pollution and concern for competitiveness. Two tax instruments include commodity and emission tax. Since commodity tax is applied, the inclusion of levies on each unit of the polluting consumption good that its firm produce and sell regardless of where the purchases come from (Cremer & Gahvari, 2005). To combat the pollution, the government need to impose another tax per unit of emissions on (home) firms (Cremer & Gahvari, 2005). Whereas, partial tax harmonization showed that partially harmonizing emission taxes encourage firms to adopt cleaner technologies and improves environmental quality and enhances welfare. Harmonizing the emission tax rate reduces per unit as well as aggregate emissions. On the other hand, Malaysia is surprisingly has the environmental tax previously but due to the inefficient environmental tax policy, Malaysia failed to achieve the environmental goal. Now, Malaysia is developed the carbon tax policy to reap the maximum benefit of trade, economic development as well as reduce the further environment pollution.
Furthermore, the imposition of product tax to certain country will give impact on the consumer behaviour. Based on Ireland experienced on plastic bags levy, the use or demand for the plastic begs was dramatically decreased by 90% and an associated gain in the form of reduced littering and negative landscape effect (Amin.et.al., 2009). The country received a good and positive response from their stakeholder: the public and the retail industry.
The overall message of this paper is to critically reviewed the past literature articles on environmental taxation. The environmental taxation is based on the idea that every polluter-pays principles. Hence, one way for the government to reduce the environmental pollution is to charge the environmental tax to the polluters. Government’s objective to implement environmental tax is to increase revenue and to improve the environment. On the other hand, government should take into consideration on the distortionary effect towards implementation. The optimal environmental tax policy is essential to increase compliance and reduce tax evasion. The assertion on the double dividend is supported by some of the researcher since the environmental tax approved more benefits not only to government but to the firms and consumers. Government should be able to create a win-win situation with the polluters. To balance the burden, the government were recycling the revenue by giving incentives to the firms. Firms who have an effort to invent with a new technology which reduce pollution will give such incentives in order to encourage them to keep the cleaner environment and government also providing subsidies for abatement activities. Unfortunately, sometimes the incentives and subsidies given is more than the revenue collected. However, government is actually successful if their objective is to educate or to change the behavioural attitude of the firms and consumers towards cleaner environment. Recent research identified that the cost to clean the environment becoming higher than previously thought, thus the environmental taxation is appeared to be a best solution to solve the problem. Therefore, due to the fiscal pressures and increasing demands for a cleaner environment, most countries are turned to impose this tax. Furthermore, EU has implemented the emissions of six greenhouse gases as a step forward in the effort to tackle global warming and it includes binding, quantified objectives for limiting and reducing greenhouse gases. To offsetting the cost increases, Member States have redistributed the revenue by giving various tax reduction and refund scheme. In short, environmental tax played a role as revenue contributed to the government and at the same time it serve public for cleaner environment. It is most important to understand on the magnitude of the environmental benefits in order to avoid unintended effect or conflict. According to Verbeke & Coeck, 1997, such conflict can be avoided if four conditions are fulfilled.
First, when legitimacy problems are likely, the government should give priority to the behavioural effects of environmental policy, even if this implies that specific financial goals cannot be met through the mere levying of environmental taxes. Second, environmental taxation levels should not be set and/or adjusted only as a function of financial goals to the government, but rather as a function of the actual external costs created by industrial pollution. Third, for corporate level, environmental taxes should be set at levels that do not jeopardize the international competitiveness of the affected firms. It may be useful to determine a ceiling on the environmental tax levels. Fourth, it is important for public policy makers to clearly explain to the business community the rationale for setting specific environmental taxation level.
Malaysia in general has not implemented the environmental taxes directly, but through the budget government has given various incentives for those firms who actively involved in pollution reduction activities. However, Malaysia has experienced all policies like implemented energy taxation, tradable emission permits and environmental regulations except carbon taxation (Amin. et.al.(2009)). The researcher stated that Malaysia are moving towards sustainable development and for better environmental performance, there is a policy goal in the Malaysian 9th Development Plan. However due to lack of efficiency of the environmental policy options, the present level of pollution charge is insignificant and inappropriate environmental tax system, Malaysia failed to achieve the environmental goal.
Since Malaysia does not have an effective and efficient environmental taxes system, it is recommended to have a future research in this area.
I wish to thank my beloved husband, En Azman A.Rahman and my friend, Pn. Alina Bt Mahmud for their support and helpful in preparation of this paper. Furthermore a special thanks to my lecturer, DR Loo Ern Chen for her kind advices to me in preparation of this paper.
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