Transportation will be the axis of future environmental taxes

Environmental taxation, formed by the group of taxes on energy, transport, pollution and the use of resources, is in the focus of the authorities of developed countries. It is a field that, in general, has a long journey.

And even more so in Spain, where the collection for this type of tax reached 1.8% of GDP in 2019, compared to 2.6% of the average of the eurozone countries and 2.4% of the average of all 27, according to Eurostat. The amount obtained in our country until November 2019 was 22,050 million euros, according to the environmental tax account published by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

The collection for these taxes in Spain only
is 1.8% of GDP

In recent years, important measures have been taken in Spain to achieve the objectives set by the UN. Two examples are the recent laws on Climate Change and Energy Transition and that of Waste and Contaminated Soils. In the same, however, the fiscal aspect does not appear or is minimal, although it is true that in the second two new tax figures are created, such as the tax on single-use plastic containers and the tax on the landfill and incineration.

“Taxation is always useful to encourage or discourage behavior. It is a simple instrument and, in addition, it provides revenue ”, says Carlos Victoria, research economist at EsadeEcPol.

Fuels or use of the vehicle will be subject to tax action

“But in this area there is a very large margin and despite the recommendations of the Bank of Spain, in the sense of promoting an environmental tax reform, we are far in terms of collection compared to other countries,” adds Victoria.

Committee of experts

A general tax reform is what is on the table. In February 2022, a committee of experts will have to present to the Ministry of Finance its proposals for the transformation of the Spanish tax system. In this committee is Xavier Labandeira, professor of Economics at the University of Vigo and specialist in environmental economics, for whom transport is one of the fields where the path of environmental taxation is greater.

In figures

22,050 million euros. It is the amount collected for environmental taxes until November 2019, according to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

5% of PIB. It is the percentage that is intended to be achieved in 2050 by collecting environmental taxes in accordance with the Spain 2050 Plan.

This expert has always defended, and has stated on several occasions, that this sector presents less difficulties and less resistance than others to taxation. Labandeira is also in favor, as has been stated in several interventions, of taxing the use of vehicles to replace property, fuel and registration taxes.

Likewise, it advocates equalizing the taxation of diesel to that of gasoline, a project that the Government had already prepared but that it withdrew in the General State Budget Law for 2021 at the proposal of the PNV. In Brussels they have already taken measures and in the legislative green package recently presented by the European Commission, the diesel tax is raised by 46%.

The future of environmental taxation in Spain runs along the lines pointed out years ago by Labandeira. In the Spain 2050 Plan, which includes the socio-economic objectives for the next 30 years, transport will be the sector where future environmental taxation will focus.

As the first objective in this area, the plan aims to reach the current European average of collection before 2030. Ten years later, in 2040, the percentage of this collection in GDP would be 4% and in 2050, 5%.

To achieve these ends, the taxation of road transport will be adjusted to the actual use of the vehicle, which implies a tax on the actual measured use taking into account the characteristics of the automobile, such as weight, power and polluting emissions. It is also proposed to create a tax for travelers who frequently use the plane and a tax on tickets according to their proximity to the destination.

The low collection in this type of taxation does not mean that there is little diversity. Most of these levies are taxes of the autonomous communities, which have jurisdiction in this matter.

“Each one legislates with its own criteria and on the same taxable event there are many different deductions,” says the president of the Registry of Fiscal Advisory Economists (REAF), Agustín Fernández.

These taxable events are the use of water, gas emissions, waste and the use of natural resources. “We must harmonize, no doubt,” says the president of REAF.

Climate rent

One of the problems posed by environmental taxation is “that it can become regressive, as it is indirect, and has negative effects on the lower income strata of the population,” says economist Carlos Victoria. The Spain 2050 Plan echoes this aspect and proposes the possibility of creating a “climate rent”, that is, “a mechanism designed to return part of the collection from green taxes to the population”. The document explains that said income “would help mitigate the asymmetries in the costs of the transition and (…) would correct the inequality-generating effects of these taxes.”


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