|Corporate environmental sustainability – SA’s impending carbon tax
Having signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in November 2016, and as part of its National Climate Change Response Policy, South Africa has endorsed its "national-determined contribution" commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The National Treasury consequently intends to implement a carbon tax on identified affected sectors on the basis of their GHG emission concentrations as a controlled climate change mitigation measure. The Draft Carbon Tax Bill, first published on 2 November 2015, and republished on 15 December 2017 following the first round of public comment, proposes a fuel input tax as the preferred option for imposing and pricing a carbon tax in South Africa. The Draft Carbon Tax Bill’s second phase of public commentary closed on 9 March 2018, with public hearings having been conducted at Parliament on 14 March 2018.
The Carbon Tax Bill proposes the quantification of the carbon dioxide equivalent for a variety of fossil fuel inputs (CO2eq), using approved emissions factors or by use of approved methods stipulated in the National Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting Regulations, as approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
It is further proposed that a modest carbon tax of ZAR 120 per tCO2eq will be imposed, increasing annually at a rate of inflation plus 2% until 31 December 2022, and in line with inflation thereafter. The carbon tax liability is calculated as the tax base (total quantity of GHG emissions from combustion, fugitive and industrial processes proportionately reduced by the tax-free allowances) multiplied by the rate of the carbon tax. The final tax rate, exemptions, and the actual date of implementation will be determined by the Minister of Finance through the annual Budget process.
The mechanics of the Carbon Tax Bill envisages a phased implementation approach on an intensity-based target using a percentage-based threshold of actual emissions. Phase 1 (up to 2022) provides for temporary percentage-based tax-free thresholds and additional relief for trade exposed sectors, as well as an offsets programme. The impact of the carbon tax in Phase 1 is designed to be revenue-neutral in terms of its aggregated impact, when assessed together with the complementary tax incentives and revenue recycling measures. Further, in order to ensure a minimal impact on the price of electricity in the initial phase, a credit for (or reduction in) the electricity generation levy and the renewable electricity premium (built into the current price of electricity) will also be introduced. Phase 2 shall provide for the reduction of the percentage tax-free threshold and possible replacement with an absolute emission threshold thereafter which could be in line with the proposed carbon budgets. The mandatory carbon budgets regime will be introduced in a way that is fully-aligned with the carbon tax, and is designed to ensure no double penalty. An integrated review process to assess both instruments will be done, which will inform any significant changes in the tax rate and the implementation of the carbon budgets.
In order to facilitate the carbon tax, the DEA has implemented a mandatory GHG reporting system comprising the following regulatory mechanisms:
- the declaration of GHGs as priority air pollutants;
- the development of the National Air Emission Inventory System (NAEIS) as an on-line GHG Reporting System, which will also house energy combustion data supplied by the Department of Energy; and
- implementation of the National Reporting Regulations to regulate the reporting of data and information from identified point, non-point and mobile sources of atmospheric emissions to the NAEIS towards the compilation of atmospheric emission inventories.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) will be the administrative authority to implement the tax liability assessment and will have access to the DEA emissions database. In order to audit the self-reported tax liability by entities, SARS will be assisted by the DEA to verify the reported emissions. Alignment between the reporting entity, as registered with the DEA, and the taxable entity registered with SARS has commenced to enable the companies to use their DEA registration details for the SARS process.
Many countries in the world have implemented carbon taxes as one of two mechanisms to curb GHG emissions in line with their corporate environmental responsibilities and international obligations. Corporations have similarly backed government policies and amended their operations to reduce emissions, source energy from low-GHG sources and address climate change as a joint economic and environmental imperative (see more here).
It will be your responsibility to contribute to the sustainability of South Africa’s developmental framework. Ensuring compliant reporting measures are in place is the first step to sustainability and actionable change.
It is contemplated that stakeholders will appear before Parliament for the second tranche of public hearings before the end of June 2018. Webber Wentzel will be monitoring the Parliamentary process.
This alert was drafted by Paula-Ann Novotny (Trainee Attorney).
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