We first wrote about financial transaction taxes back in 2011. Here we take a look at those articles and the developments of the last four years. Progress has been glacial, at best in the UK.
The Robin Hood tax comes from a term coined by economist Hunter Logan in 1998 and refers to a package of financial transaction taxes (FTT), proposed by a campaigning group of civil society NGOs. In 2001 the charity War on Want released The Robin Hood Tax, an earlier proposal presenting their case for a currency transaction tax. By 2010 the UK had launched the campaign that we know today.
In 2011 we wrote how the Robin Hood Tax could be ‘Turning a global crisis into a global opportunity’, adding: “It’s been promoted by everyone from Bill Gates to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, but what is the so-called Robin Hood Tax all about.
“Styled as the tax which, like the folkloric Nottinghamshire outlaw from which its name derives, ‘takes from the rich and gives to the poor’, the Robin Hood Tax claims it will potentially generate billions of pounds to be used in the fight against global poverty.
“It would do this by placing a relatively small tax – a meagre 0.05% – on all financial market transactions in the UK. The general public, won’t be taxed a penny. Well, not extra anyway. It’s all focused on transactions made by banks and financial institutions.”
A year later, in December 2012, we wrote how Bill Nighy had called for a Robin Hood tax to create an ‘Aids-free generation’. “The actor, star of such films as Love Actually and Pirates of the Caribbean, explained that a Robin Hood tax, which takes from the rich and gives to the poor, could bring an end to a disease that claims the lives of 1.8 million people a year and affects about 20 times that number.
“In the UK alone, more than 90,000 people – more people than ever before – are living with HIV, with 25% of those apparently unaware they have the virus.”
UK chancellor, George Osborne, has opposed the levy. He, and others, argue it damage the City and weigh on growth, jobs and investment in the UK. In April 2013, Osborne, announced that the UK had filed a legal challenge of the decision authorising the use of enhanced cooperation to implement the FTT with the European Court of Justice.
In 2014 he told a meeting of Europe’s finance ministers concerning the introduction of the tax in 2016: “We need to hear more about what is being proposed, and it is up to member states to decide whether they want to damage jobs and investment in their own economies but if they seek to damage jobs and investment across the rest of Europe, then we’re entitled to challenge that.
“Our view has been that the financial transactions tax that people have talked about is not a tax on bankers as people present it; it’s a tax on jobs, it’s a tax on investment, it’s a tax on people’s pensions and pensioners and that is why the United Kingdom does not want to be a part of it.
“Our priority has to make sure, therefore, that the tax proposals that member states do come up with do not have an extra territorial impact both on the United Kingdom and on the broader European economy.”
The European Court of Justice subsequently dismissed the legal challenge in 2014, but didn’t rule out the possibility the UK could challenge the legality of the FTT if it is eventually approved. Osborne has threatened that legal challenge.
In September 2015, RobinHoodTax.org.uk said: “Right now, the UK government has set itself in opposition to this proposal that could raise billions of pounds a year. Much of the rest of Europe has committed to ensuring their financial sectors pay for damage caused – we must do the same.”
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Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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