Policymakers must expand focus beyond regulation for the most effective
TORONTO, March 7 /CNW/ - A report published today by TD Economics
recommends that policymakers incorporate market-based tools into their overall
environmental action plans to help mitigate the loss of jobs, income and
competitive standing for Canadian business in the global marketplace.
These tools, which include taxes, subsidies and tradable permits, are an
effective way to change the cost structure of pollution to reflect its social
detriments, according to the report entitled Market-based solutions to protect
the environment. By doing so, polluters bear a higher cost for their actions,
and conversely, those making an effort to pollute less incur a lower cost or
"Canadians are concerned about the environment and want the most pressing
challenges addressed," according to Don Drummond, Senior Vice President and
Chief Economist at TD Bank Financial Group. "But many believe there's a fixed
economic cost to any environment action. To be sure costs exist but they can
be reduced with an appropriate blend of market-based instruments."
Expanding the Focus of Environmental Action Plan
A key intent of this report is to expand the focus of environmental
action plans beyond traditional tools of regulation and voluntary agreements.
These tools have a role to play, but for the most part they should
complement market-based policies. It is important to recognize that not all
environmental approaches have the same economic costs. This is an especially
pressing point to make for regulation because it remains a central focus of
Regulations distort the cost-price structure in the market, which causes
companies and individuals to behave in a way that is inconsistent with their
perceived best interests. A blanket emissions policy can impose exorbitant
compliance costs on firms and individuals, to the point where the cost may end
up higher than the value society places on reducing the environmental damage
in the first place. Regulations also provide little incentive for firms and
households to innovate or invest in new technology that would help them exceed
the minimum threshold for compliance, because the financial benefit in doing
so is zero.
Any sensible policy approach needs to go beyond regulation, but not
likely to its complete exclusion. For instance, a tradable permit framework
would be completely ineffective without regulated emission caps. Free reign on
emissions would render the price of pollution equal to zero.
Addressing the market failure
An underlying challenge for policymakers is that existing prices for
pollution are too low, and as such, do not reflect the true cost it has on
society. Furthermore there is no incentive to alter behaviour for the greater
good. This 'market failure' means people and companies do not take into
account the consequences of their actions, resulting in overuse. TD Economics
suggests that this challenge can be addressed through a blend of regulation
and market-based options, including taxes, subsidies and tradable permits.
The implementation of environmental taxes ensures polluters bear the cost
of their actions. In order to reduce costs, this user-pay system - which must
include a wide range of pollution sources - can prompt individuals and
companies to innovate their practices.
The tax should be applied when the pollution is created. Since the bulk
of the pollution associated with gasoline is created by automobiles, consumers
should face the tax. Pollution created in the production process should be
taxed at the firm level. However, governments must be sensitive to a firm's
competitive position in the market place when setting these taxes.
The revenues generated from environmental taxes should be used to lower
other taxes, such as personal income tax, or to finance subsidies that help
the environment. This 'tax shift' can help reduce existing taxes that create
distortions or disincentives to working or investing.
This approach is not without its challenges. Success stems from
establishing a tax rate that can address the underlying environmental concern,
without unduly compromising economic efficiency.
Pricing for current technology does not incorporate the cost to the
environment. As such there is no incentive to embrace new and costly
technology that will only be beneficial to the environment. A subsidy can make
up the difference between the marginal private cost and social benefit. This
subsidy could make existing technologies more affordable or fund new
However, like taxes, choosing the optimal amount for a subsidy is
extremely difficult. Also subsidies only work if they change behaviour,
otherwise they will result in a "free-rider" problem when firms or consumers
receive a subsidy for actions that they were already planning to undertake.
Furthermore tax-payers ultimately bear the cost of the subsidy. It must
either come from an equivalent increase in taxes, or from a drawdown in
existing government coffers (i.e. surpluses), which in turn amounts to forgone
future tax or debt reductions. That is why, to the extent possible, it is more
efficient to make the polluter pay through tax shifting.
Cap-and-trade policies effectively embed the 'polluter pay' principle. An
economy-wide reduction in emissions is set and then allocated across a group
of firms within specific industries using emission credits. These credits
(which are allotted a specific monetary value) represent the amount of
emissions each firm is allowed to produce over a given time frame. If a firm
ends up exceeding its allowance, it must either purchase credits from other
producers who have surplus credits or face a hefty penalty. From an economic
perspective, greenhouse gases are reduced in an efficient and least-cost
manner with those willing to bear the costs of pollution paying the market
price for that decision. Furthermore, firms have the flexibility to customize
their own solutions and timelines.
There is a global push towards trading systems in carbon pricing, and the
longer Canadian firms have to become accustomed to the cap-and-trade program
the better off they will be. Furthermore if technology-adoption is made early,
there is a better chance that Canada will be a provider of surplus credits on
the global stage.
Yet the international carbon market is in its infancy, and market
anomalies exist that could result in a direct transfer of wealth from the
Canadian companies to developing nations. As such it is more attractive to
start with a domestic trading platform, which can eventually link into a
"Sensible environment policy requires a myriad market-based options as
well as regulation and moral suasion," said Mr. Drummond. "Governments should
take a holistic approach to achieve the right policy mix. By doing so, we will
mitigate the risks and maximize the rewards for society."
Market-based solutions to protect the environment can be found at
For further information:
For further information: Don Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief
Economist, Tel: (416) 982-2556, email@example.com; Beata Caranci, Senior
Economist, Tel: (416) 982-8067, firstname.lastname@example.org