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A Levy for Carbon Emissions – A Tool for Sustainable Development


Carbon Emissions
Image Courtesy – Binderiya Sanduijav

A carbon tax is a market-based tool for reducing or eliminating environmental externalities by imposing set pricing on polluters. Nearly every facet of modern economic activity has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), and hence the global climate. Climate change policy must have an impact on these activities in order to be effective. Carbon pricing can encourage cost-effective abatement, provide substantial innovation incentives, and alleviate rather than increase government budget issues by internalizing the externalities associated with CO2 emissions.

Governments defer to private firms and individuals to find and exploit the lowest cost ways to reduce emissions and invest in the development of new technologies, processes, and ideas that could further mitigate emissions by pricing CO2 emissions (or, equivalently, pricing the carbon content of the three fossil fuels—coal, petroleum, and natural gas). Carbon pricing may be facilitated by a variety of policy tools, including carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, emission reduction credits, clean energy requirements, and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.  

CO2 and other global pollutants pose a policy issue since their externalities are difficult to absorb without government intervention. This may be seen in the long road from the 1998 Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement 2015, as well as the ongoing effort on more meaningful implementation of more enforceable pledges. We do have evidence, however, that when countries grow, the environment becomes a societal concern, and there is a greater need for pollution control. Richer nations have lately put in place procedures to avoid or solve environmental problems that have arisen as a result of economic development.

The OECD has also emphasized the possibility of environmental taxes on consumption and goods to solve the CO2 externality problem. A tax like this would allow the cost of environmental degradation to be determined based on the preferences of the country imposing the tax. So far, these measures have concentrated on the source of emissions.

Understanding Carbon Levy

Pollution

In theory, the most straightforward way to price carbon would be for the government to impose a carbon tax. To be cost-effective, such a tax would have to cover all sources and to be efficient, the carbon price would have to be equal to the marginal benefits of emission reduction, as measured by estimates of the social cost of carbon. An effective carbon tax would rise over time to reflect the reality that as more greenhouse gas emissions build in the atmosphere, the more harm one additional ton of CO2 does. A carbon tax would give certainty about the marginal cost of compliance, lowering uncertainty about investment returns, but it would leave economy-wide emission levels unclear.

The carbon tax might be imposed at several stages in the fossil fuel product cycle, from fossil fuel providers depending on the carbon content of fuel sales through ultimate emitters at the point of energy generation. Operators of coal mines would pay a fee based on the carbon content of the tons extracted at the mine mouth. Natural-gas businesses would be required to pay a tax based on the carbon content of the gas they bring to the surface at the wellhead or import through pipelines or LNG terminals. Since the tax could combine current mechanisms for fuel supply monitoring and reporting to the regulatory authorities, a carbon tax would be administratively simple and uncomplicated to implement in most industrialized countries. Carbon taxes might be implemented reasonably easily in certain developing nations with competent tax systems, including monitoring and enforcement regimes to reduce tax fraud. 

The imposition of a carbon tax (or any other serious climate policy tool) will raise the cost of energy use and may reduce the competitiveness of energy-intensive companies. This competition impact can have severe economic and environmental consequences: corporations may shift operations to nations without substantial climate change legislation, raising emissions and negating some of the policy’s environmental advantages. Because the bulk of emissions in industrialized nations occurs in nontraded sectors like power, transportation, and residential structures, such “emission leakage” may be very little. Energy-intensive industrial sectors that create goods for foreign markets, on the other hand, may be enticed to migrate and lobby for a range of regulations to counteract these effects.

The Cap and Trade System

Carbon Emissions

A cap-and-trade system limits regulated sources’ total emissions by establishing a certain number of marketable emission permits—in total equal to the overall cap—and requires those sources to surrender allowances to cover their emissions. When given the option of surrendering an allowance or decreasing emissions, businesses assign an allowance a value that represents the cost of emission reductions that may be avoided by surrendering an allowance. Regardless of the original allowance allocation, trade can lead to allowances being put to their best use: covering the most expensive emissions and giving an incentive to lower the least expensive emissions. 

Cap-and-trade establishes an aggregate quantity and, via trading, establishes a price on emissions; it is essentially the inverse of a carbon tax, which prices emissions and establishes a number of emissions as businesses respond to the tax’s mitigation incentives. Confusion about abatement costs leads to ambiguity about allowance prices under a cap-and-trade system, as well as uncertainty about emissions under a tax. This has enormous economic and political ramifications, which we will examine further down. Cost uncertainty in an emission trading program—unexpectedly high or variable allowance prices—can erode political support for climate policies and discourage investment in innovative technologies and R&D. As a result, the focus has shifted to implementing “cost-containment” techniques such as offsets, allowance banking, and borrowing, safety valves, and price collars into cap-and-trade systems.

Domestic cap-and-trade systems might include some variation of a border tax, akin to a carbon tax, to buffer some of the detrimental competitiveness effects of a unilateral domestic climate policy and urge trading partners to adopt mitigation policies of equivalent rigor. In the event of a cap-and-trade system, the border adjustment would be in the form of an import allowance requirement, putting imports on par with locally produced commodities in terms of regulatory costs. Border restrictions under a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, on the other hand, raise concerns about the use of trade sanctions to induce larger and more widespread emission reductions throughout the world, as well as their validity under the World Trade Organization.

International Trade-Related Carbon Emissions

A country’s comparative advantage and trade openness affect the composition impact. Pollution-intensive sectors are more likely to migrate to jurisdictions where environmental regulations are less rigorous. Other variables, however, influence a country’s comparative advantage and, as a result, its trade flows. Furthermore, trade openness can cause income and production shifts, resulting in scale and technique consequences. Trade can result in technological transfers that, in some cases, can assist lessen the environmental impact of economic activity. Environmental control, on the other hand, will be required to establish essential incentives.

As a result, trade liberalization and the current trend of globalization may have an impact on the policies chosen for environmental protection and the expected outcomes. Carbon emissions embedded in international commerce have increased dramatically as a result of increased trade liberalization and globalization, and they now account for a significant portion of overall carbon emissions. One rationale is that industrial production is often more carbon-intensive than service output and that industrial items are traded more than services.

Implementing a Price on Carbon Emissions in order to increase Emission Reductive Actions

Carbon pricing assigns a monetary value to GHG emissions in the form of a monetary unit per ton of CO2 equivalent. The goal of placing a price on carbon emissions is to induce a behavioral change that will result in lower emissions in line with the climate change mitigation strategy, hence reducing the number of greenhouse gases released into the environment. In accordance with the ‘polluter pays’ concept, the price signal increases the cost of activities that cause pollution or harm to the environment by adding (‘internalizing’) the appropriate societal costs, often known as ‘negative externalities.’

Negative externalities are the costs to society incurred as a result of GHG emissions that are not paid for by the producer or the consumer and are not included in their decisions. Internalizing externalities entails putting a price on the use of the environment, as well as a charge on the negative impacts of production and consumption, by raising prices to meet their societal costs (the price signal). In other words, activities that result in the emission of Green House Gases into the environment are subject to charges. 

Carbon pricing tries to raise the cost of not lowering GHG emissions above the cost of implementing modifications that lead to lower or zero-emission output and activities (including transport, heating, and land use). As a result, the price does not remain constant around the world or over time. Charges of this nature can be passed on to consumers by producers. In other words, the price signal raises the cost of more carbon-intensive energy sources and activities in comparison to less carbon-intensive ones. Comprehensive carbon pricing can provide –

  • broad-based incentives for energy saving and the transition to greener energy sources;
  • significant government income; and
  • significant domestic environmental benefits (e.g., fewer deaths from local air pollution). The political challenge with carbon pricing stems from its direct influence on particular sectors (for example, energy costs), highlighting the necessity for complementary measures to resolve trade-offs with other mechanisms. Carbon pricing, in an ideal world, would be comprehensive, well-designed (with prices growing predictably over time and well-targeted for mitigation), and the proceeds sensibly spent. 

Environmental Concerns being Overlooked

Carbon pricing is one of the tools that may be used to encourage emission reductions. However, in many countries, it is still in its infancy, and it is rarely used to the extent necessary to support a genuine transition to a low-carbon society. The carbon price gap is the difference between a benchmark value consistent with reduction strategies and the actual effective carbon rate. It explains how present measures are falling short due to the gap closing slowly. Furthermore, there are significant differences across sectors; this indicates that nations must address both the aggregate carbon pricing gap and the carbon pricing gap across sectors when extending and widening the implementation of carbon pricing.

The responsiveness of emissions to pricing, which varies by industry and source of emissions, is another crucial consideration. Carbon emissions are priced at the production level, which raises questions about not just competitiveness and trade, but also efficacy in decreasing global emissions. When production-level controls are implemented, there is a danger that rivals who are not charged for the emissions they create would gain a competitive advantage. As a result, the industry may relocate to nations that do not charge for carbon emissions. Carbon leakage is the term for this phenomenon. Carbon pricing must be considered in the context of a country’s tax structure in order to be consistent not only with competitiveness but also with equality and supporting policies. Finally, it is evident that when it comes to ensuring and sustaining public acceptance of carbon prices, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Conclusion

Carbon taxes have gotten a lot of attention as a carbon-pricing mechanism in a lot of nations and jurisdictions. For efficacy and long-term sustainability, a practical and acceptable carbon price strategy must be developed. Designing a carbon tax system for developing nations, on the other hand, is more difficult due to their underlying lack of revenue and resources, as well as high levels of corruption and socioeconomic unfairness.

Carbon taxes are thought to have an impact on the worldwide competitiveness of energy-intensive companies, particularly non-resource-based industries that do not receive government subsidies. A carbon tax is a climate strategy that has been shown to cut carbon emissions, raise government income, and have minimal administrative costs in underdeveloped nations. While the majority of the economic literature on environmental policy emphasizes the optimality of carbon pricing in terms of maximum welfare or lowest abatement costs, our arguments highlight the fact that carbon pricing is more effective than other approaches in reducing emissions at a reasonable cost. 

During the study period, carbon emissions embedded in international commerce increased their proportion to total emissions as trade grew more important to the global economy. There is a net movement of emissions from intermediate producers in developing economies to final producers in developed economies, and then to consumers in developed economies. The distribution of responsibility for pollution across countries is a key issue in international environmental accords.

The expanding importance of some fast-growing emerging areas, as well as the growth of trade links among them, emphasizes the necessity for any international deal to be coordinated with those regions, in order to reduce carbon emissions. In the adoption and development of international environmental regulatory objectives, information based on final production and consumption inventories can be used to augment territorial-based emission criteria. It might also be used as a foundation for policies other than multilateral agreements, such as carbon taxes on consumption and commodities, border-adjustment tariffs, and regulation. Any price plan for emissions-related environmental harm should be compatible with economic growth and trade liberalization under the rules of international agreements like the WTO.



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