Topic 4: Environmental Policy

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Central government departments and local authorities increasingly have recycling targets imposed on them in order for them to indicate their commitment to environmental policy and performance and to tackle resource depletion in general.

Environmental Taxation

Within recent and contemporary British politics there has been a rise in demands for so-called ‘green’ or environmental taxes in order to reward and encourage a greater degree of environmental responsibility across the wider British population. Such an approach has been seen as having the dual benefits of raising money and also reducing environmental damage in the process. Such ‘ethical’ taxes are ultimately aimed at improving conservation, saving energy, encouraging the use of green technologies and reducing emissions from various forms of transport that damage the environment, e.g. vehicle excise duties, fuel duties, etc. Such taxes often take the form of increases in energy prices or petrol/fuel, but tax rebates for consumers and subsidies for companies using low-carbon energy can also be a more positive feature according to the green lobby. In October 2015 the government introduced a plastic bag ‘tax’ meaning that consumers would be charged 5p for each plastic bag they used. However, the money collected doesn’t go to the government, they expect supermarkets to give it to charities, and its main purpose is to reduce the number of disposable plastic bags that are used each year.
However, this form of relatively new taxation has generated significant controversy for a number of reasons:

• Many people and some political groups view such taxation as a further form of ‘stealth tax’, i.e. taxation imposed in an indirect manner.

As an added layer of taxation, critics further argue that such taxes are economically ineffective in that they are impractical and do not get to the heart of reducing environmental damage.

• It is also claimed that such taxes are levied disproportionately against certain consumers and certain businesses and are therefore unfair and unequal in their effect, e.g. motorists and companies that

rely heavily on motoring are affected in particular by such extra taxes on fuel, etc. Some on the right of politics view such taxes as being ‘anti-business’ in their impact.

• They are also claimed to depress economic activity by further reducing public spending by their imposition (further damaging the economy during a period of austerity).

Prominent motoring pressure groups such as the AA, RAC and the Road Haulage Association have been in the frontline of opposing such taxes, and this ‘anti-fuel’ tax lobby has been relatively successful in restricting government proposals in the area of environmental taxation. This is largely connected to the fact that that there is a vast and growing number of motorists in the UK and any proposals to increase tax in such areas can lead to many people being affected in an adverse financial way. This can ultimately lead to political repercussions and lost votes for the party in power, as no politician wants to create an image of being ‘anti-car’ and alienating so many potential voters. As a reflection of this, Chancellor George Osborne cut 1p off fuel duty in his 2011 budget, appearing to reverse previous green ‘stealth’ taxes in the process.

However the ‘car lobby’ generates friction with environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth who argue for such extra taxes as a means of encouraging less road traffic, greater use of public transport and less pollution as a result. There have always been such tensions between the pro-business, anti-tax lobby and the ‘green’ lobby, and this battle for political influence is likely to continue in the years ahead.

Green’ Pressure Group Lobbying

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