NGOs promote tax shift for "sustainable jobs"

Tax burden must be shifted, resource subsidies ended, green jobs encouraged, say NGOs

Eight of Europe's most influential environmental groups yesterday set out their stall for November's European jobs summit in Luxembourg. The groups called on EU heads of government to thoroughly reform EU energy and agricultural subsidies, introduce a "massive shift" in the tax burden from labour to natural resources and encourage job creation in areas such as sustainable transport and energy conservation.

The "crucial weakness" of the EU economic model, the groups say, is that nature is overused and human resources are underused. "As a consequence, unemployment is rising while at the same time the EU has difficulties in fulfilling its own environmental commitments."

Reversing this trend would bring a "double benefit" of increased employment and reduced pressures on the environment, the NGOs argue. But they warn that the aim can only be realised if environmental protection is fully integrated into economic policy.

A paper prepared by the groups accuses the EU of subsidising polluting activities that damage the environment and fail to create jobs. Redirecting fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies to renewable energies and energy efficiency measures would create jobs in the energy sector it says. And re-allocating a greater share of the EU's agricultural budget to agri-environmental programmes would create more jobs in rural areas.

The environmental groups give full backing to the European Commission's support for a shift in the tax burden from labour to natural resources. Numerous studies show that this would create jobs and improve the environment without damaging competitiveness, the paper says. A first step, the groups say, would be for EU member states to adopt the Commission's recent energy tax proposal (ENDS Daily 13 March). But green groups also want heads of state to "collectively agree to carry out an ecological reform of their tax systems, shifting the burden from labour to environment".

Traditionally, green jobs have been created by clean-up activities. "Once the focus is shifted from end-of-pipe treatment to clean production, economic and environmental interests come together," the paper says, referring to this as the "sine qua non for sustainable jobs".

The paper gives two examples of how this can be achieved. In the building sector, the paper quotes the EU environment commissioner's estimate that 340,000 job years could be created within 10 years by investing in energy efficiency measures. And in the transport sector, the report cites a recent Friends of the Earth calculation that a reduction of 8,000 jobs in the UK car industry would be offset by the creation of 130,000 jobs in the public transport sector.

Follow Up:
European Environmental Bureau, tel: +32 2 289 1090. References: "Working for Environmental Sustainability", published for Bird Life International, Climate Network Europe, European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, International Friends of Nature, Transport and Environment, World Wide Fund for Nature.

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