Taxing times produce climate answers

10 February 2013

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Frank Jotzo is Director of The Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at Crawford School, and director of the School’s Resources, Environment and Development program. He currently teaches the graduate courses Domestic Climate Change Economics and Policy and Issues in Development and Environment.

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Complex modeling, discussions and negotiations about the effects and challenges of implementing an economy-wide carbon tax in South Africa led to the African country taking a bold plan to the Copenhagen climate negotiations, according to a visiting academic.

Professor Harald Winkler from the Energy Research Centre at Cape Town University visited Crawford School on February 5. While here, he recorded an exclusive interview with Associate Professor Frank Jotzo of Crawford's Centre for Climate Economics and Policy ahead of his public lecture giving an academic's perspective on plans for a carbon tax in South Africa.

Winkler said that the African nation's initial bold negotiating position at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 was a direct result of the hard work that had been put in behind the scenes in the lead up to the event.

“The scenario processes [that were modeled] led to a political statement by our cabinet in 2008 that South Africa's emissions would peak, plateau and decline - plateau between about 2020/25, 2030/35. That was quite a radical statement at the time for a larger developing country to take to Copenhagen,” he said.

That radical position, he added, was a result of years of complex discussions and scenarios.

“We had a fascinating process in 2006-7, where there were some scenarios. They were really muddled with a complex set of teams, interesting research, linked to a stakeholder process where we get people together from across government, from business, from society and we were talking together about what if South Africa reduced its emissions, would it ruin the economy, would it make poor peoples lives impossible?” he explained.

Winkler said that although progress can appear slow to the outside world, he enjoys being involved with global climate negotiations.

“In a sense, one has to be a professional optimist but it's also a compelling problem. I've always been interested in applied research, applied science and particularly in the policy area,” he said.

“I really became fascinated through studying initially and by the combination of how this is a complex problem scientifically, deeply involving energy and the energy economy and also the negotiating process and all of these things interacting,” he said.

At his lecture, Winkler discussed South Africa's plans for a carbon tax. The South African Treasury, in its 2012 budget review, proposed a carbon tax of around AUD$13 per tonne of CO2 emissions, rising until 2020. Various details are still under discussion, such as thresholds and how revenue might be recycled.

A video of Harald Winkler's lecture A Carbon Tax in South Africa: Perspectives from an academic is available here:

Read Harald Winkler's blog post about his visit to Australia:

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