Colombia’s carbon tax: is South Africa next?

In June 2017 Colombia, as the third developing country in the world after Mexico and Chile, has successfully passed new environmental and carbon tax legislation. This new scheme allows Colombian organisations to offset 100% of their tax liabilities. What does the Colombian carbon tax entail and what type of carbon offset projects are allowed to participate? We compare and contrast the Colombian carbon tax with South Africa’s proposed carbon tax bill and offsetting rules, with the objective to discuss the importance of a carbon tax law in South Africa.

Colombia’s commitment to climate change

Colombia has successfully ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to reduce emissions by 20% by 2030, 30% below Business-as-Usual (BAU), with international support. President Juan Manuel Santos, who was inspired by Al Gore’s words, has been debating the introduction of the carbon tax since 2011. The Colombian government admitted that more than 70% of Colombian territory is vulnerable to global temperature rises. To be more precise, the majority of the population lives in the elevated Andes, where water shortages and land instability are already a reality, and on the coast, where the increase in sea level and floods can affect key human settlements and economic activities.

While many critics have expressed their scepticism regarding the sincerity of Juan Manuel Santos’s administration concern for environmental sustainability, the Colombian Government ultimately approved a tax on fossil fuels (Part IX, Impuesto Nacional al Carbono) equivalent to approximately US$5/tCO2e payable by producers and importers of fuels in December 2016. Furthermore, in June 2017, the Colombian government finalised the rules and conditions of carbon offsetting to allow high-quality carbon credits to be used against the carbon tax obligations. Unlike South Africa, where the use of carbon credits is proposed to be capped at only 5% to 10%, Colombian entities can offset 100% of their tax liability by investing in carbon offset projects. In addition, carbon credits generated outside of Colombia are eligible until the end of 2017, after which only Colombian carbon credits can be used. By allowing a cap of 100% as well as non-domestic credits during the first few months of the scheme, helps boost market liquidity – crucial in the early stages of any new domestic carbon scheme.
We have briefly reviewed the carbon tax and offset rules in Colombia and compared them to South Africa in the table below:

Colombia and South Africa are considered upper middle-income countries. Both countries are rich in natural resources (e.g. gold, silver, platinum, oil and coal). Although Colombia faces a number of challenges, such as armed conflicts, illegal drug problems, disjointed urban and rural contexts, and limitations in subnational administrative capacity, the country has stepped up the fight on man-made climate change. It has followed the example of other Latin American countries, such as Mexico and Chile, who also put a price on carbon and make fossil fuel industries accountable for their emissions.

Where does South Africa stand?
South Africa is an important and active player in global climate change negotiations. The country has a very strong national climate change response agenda and a highly advanced regulatory and law enforcement framework. Nevertheless, the country faces political instability and corruption that unfortunately is delaying the enforcement and implementation of environmental regulations, and discourages private investment and the uptake of low carbon technologies. The delay in the signing of the power purchase agreements of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPP) is one example of many.
The South African carbon market is currently in limbo and if the carbon tax bill does not become law sooner rather than later, the country will miss the opportunity to ensure a much needed, and overdue, transition to low carbon economy which will help generate more employment and make South Africa more globally competitive. Therefore, it is crucial that the revised carbon tax bill, which was supposed to be tabled in Parliament mid-2017, is released as soon as possible. Whilst Colombia has transparent and straightforward carbon tax rules and offsetting legislation, South Africa is still in process of clarifying and simplifying the procedures. How long will it still take South Africa to sign the carbon tax into law? The government has a chance to follow the example of Latin American countries and to become a role model for all African countries in cutting its emissions. The challenge the South African government faces is not only to design and to implement an effective carbon tax and carbon offset regulations but also to carefully balance the energy needs, development priorities and environmental objectives.

Author: Jana Hofmann, Leading Researcher, Climate Neutral Group. For more info, contact Jana at jana.hofmann@climateneutralgroup.com

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