Friends of the Earth South Korea is working with the students and teachers to build 'Solar Cooperatives' on the roofs of class rooms, with the electricity generated used to power these new 'solar schools'. Photo: FOEI.
G20: Dodged taxes could finance renewable power for world's poorest 50%
Dipti Bhatnagar & Sam Cossar-Gilbert
2nd September 2016
As the G20 meet in China this weekend, it's time for governments to finally get tough on the world's tax dodgers, write Dipti Bhatnagar & Sam Cossar-Gilbert. The missing tax revenues would be able to finance a 100% renewable electricity system covering half the planet by 2030 - a major step in raising living standards and tackling climate change.
Half the world's population could enjoy 100% renewable power by 2030, bringing clean, local energy to billions of the world's poorest people while protecting the environment from dirty climate-killing fossil fuels.
As leaders from twenty of the world's major economies meet this weekend in China, for the G20 summit, two major global crises are demanding their attention: Tax havens and climate change. Fortunately, there's an opportunity for one to be used as a solution for the other.
A new report by Friends of the Earth International calculates that government revenue lost to tax havens over a 15-year period could power half the world - Africa, Latin America and much of Asia - with 100% renewable energy.
The G20 have been talking about climate change for a long time. The 2009 summit's official communiqué said, "We reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities." However, for just as long, they have done very little.
It is a similar story on tax justice: all talk, no action. At the G20 tax meeting in July they called for a "tax policy overhaul" - yet follow through remains elusive.
Tax havens and 'stateless' profits
We know the world's richest multinational corporations and individuals hide their wealth in secret overseas jurisdictions. Earlier this year, the Panama Papers leak exposed the size and scale of tax dodging via these hidden tax havens.
And Apple, we discovered this week, went a step further and placed its assets under no jurisdiction at all! As the Financial Times reported on Tuesday this week, "all profit was allocated to a 'head office' which had no employees or premises and existed only on paper ... The particular advantage of the structure was that the head office was considered 'stateless' for tax purposes, with no tax to be paid anywhere on profits attributed to it."
This arrangement allowed Apple to pay Ireland tax of just €10m on profits of $16 billion. As the FT remarked, "The tax rate on the €16bn profit was in effect 0.05 per cent in 2011 and the rate in effect declined to 0.005 per cent in 2014 even as profits grew."
International Monetary Fund researchers estimate that globally every year up to $600 billion dollars of government tax revenue is lost through tax avoidance, alone. It is shameful that the richest 1% do not pay their fair share of tax, and deny governments vast sums of money that could be used for the benefit of all. Yet this injustice continues.
Similarly, climate change is an injustice that continues. It is disproportionately caused by the world's wealthiest, and disproportionately harms the world's poor - many of whom still lack energy access. The technology exists to address this injustice.
Yet every day we are told by big polluters with vested interests that climate change is too hard to solve and renewable energy is too expensive. Our new report, An Energy Revolution is Possible, refutes this often repeated lie.
The money is hidden in tax havens
We compared tax revenue lost through tax avoidance, evasion and havens (using the International Monetary Fund's estimate), to our own calculation of investment required to reliably generate 100% of electricity from renewables in regions of the developing world most affected by, and least responsible for, climate change.
What we found is that there's enough money in 'missing' tax revenues to pay for half the world's population to enjoy 100% renewable power by 2030 - bringing clean, local energy to billions of the world's poorest people while protecting the environment from dirty climate-killing fossil fuels.
That's before accounting for any revenue from the sales of electricity, and the potential to re-invest it in building additional capacity. It's also based on the IEA's rather conservative renewable energy cost projections to 2030. In fact, costs are likely to drop considerably faster, all the more so as the colossal rate of build-out we envisage would further accelerate technology price falls.
Solving climate change is not a technical problem or financial problem. The money to bring about an Energy Revolution exists, but the political will to drive the transformation is shockingly absent.
We live in a world of unacceptable and growing inequality where nearly 1.2 billion people - or a fifth of the world's population - lack access to electricity, and more than 2 billion people lack access to clean cooking fuels. Yet, major corporations and the richest 1% dodge paying their fair share of tax and pollute without limit.
Time for the G20 to get serious!
The G20 and other governments must get serious in their fight against tax havens and other abusive tax evasion mechanisms, by regulating at both national and international levels. One initial measure is to make public the country-by-country reporting of multinationals' economic activity and tax paid. So that the scale of avoidance by channelling profits into tax havens is laid bare for all.
Another measure demanded by the tax justice movement is to set up public registers of the true owners of companies and other vehicles, along with an international information exchange to end bank secrecy. This must be backed up with strong binding laws and enforcement both nationally and globally.
Increased revenue flowing into government coffers once tax haven secrecy is ended gives an opportunity for increased spending on public services, including investments in renewable energy. And there's no shortage of incredible social and community renewable energy project across the world that currently lack financing.
For example, Friends of the Earth South Korea is working with the students and teachers to build 'Solar Cooperatives' on the roofs of class rooms, with the electricity generated used to power these new 'solar schools' (see photo).
At the International level the Green Climate Fund was established to be the world's premier climate fund for financing adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries, with a promise of $100 billion a year of financing by 2020. Yet developed countries are not keeping their promise and have so far not committed the necessary funding. Increased government revenue from tax havens could fill this shortfall and more. It could pave the way for socially and democratically controlled renewable energy for all.
Climate change and tax avoidance are symptoms of a broken system. The transformation needed is not just switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but also challenging the corporate power, tax dodging and greed that has led to this crisis.
The economic system and the global environment are on a devastating collision course. Yet an Energy Revolution is Possible, we just have to take on the 1% to achieve it.
The report: An Energy Revolution is Possible is published by Friends of the Earth international.
Dipti Bhatnagar is Climate Justice & Energy Co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, based in Maputo. Twitter: @diptimoz
Sam Cossar-Gilbert is the Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism Program Coordinator for Friends of the Earth International based in Paris. Twitter: @samcossa
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