Since 1991, a number of European governments have made cuts in conventional taxes on income and raised certain taxes that discourage harm to the environment. Sweden implemented the world's first environmental tax shift.
Commenting on the UK Budget unveiled earlier this month by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Toepfer said that it is an encouraging step in the right direction that governments are beginning to incorporate environmental considerations into their fiscal and budgetary planning cycles. He said that the greening of budgets and taxation policy are essential if industrialised countries are to effectively tackle the ecological consequences of current lifestyles.
"At last we are moving from talk to action," said Toepfer. "The UK's example of a new industrial energy tax that will help to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and new tax rules on company cars should encourage people to change their behaviour. Such changes in lifestyle are essential if we are to safeguard the future of the planet."
Toepfer continued, "The unsustainable production and consumption of goods and services may meet immediate needs, but it undermines the resource base for future generations. Taking a more philosophical, what I call a life-cycle approach, we must be willing to change our traditional concepts of economic growth. A shift of taxation from capital and labour to discharges and resource use have given positive effects on the environment in many countries," he said.
Earlier this week, Chancellor Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott briefed Ministers from all UK government departments on the "green budget". The UK government includes a group known as "The Green Ministers". One of the roles of the group, which is chaired by Environment Minister Michael Meacher, is to promote the proper appraisal of the environmental consequences of UK Government policy.
"We must think beyond what we have to pay when the environment is already damaged," said Toepfer. "Rather, through use of economic incentives, we must increasingly put a price on the environment," he said.
For more information please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of CPI
on tel: (254-2) 623292,
UNEP Spokesman's Office,
on tel: (254-2) 623084, fax: 623692,
UNEP News Release 1999/23