STRONGER action on taxing the country’s biggest polluters by the UK Government could have raised up to £23 billion last year, a report has concluded.
Illustrative modelling by Oxfam suggests that if just over a fifth of this extra revenue had been spent on green public transport in England, up to £371.39 million would have been made available to the Scottish Government, which the charity insists could have been used for extending concessionary bus travel.
The charity said that as global temperatures soar, Rishi Sunak must “turn up the heat” on both fossil fuel companies and the super-rich with their “high-emitting behaviours”.
It said greater levies on oil and gas firms, coupled with a system that “fairly taxes extreme wealth”, could have raised between £10.5bn and £12.6bn in “much-needed new finance for climate justice” in 2022 alone.
Lewis Ryder-Jones, a policy and advocacy adviser at Oxfam Scotland, said while Sunak must act now, First Minister Humza Yousaf has been urged to challenge the Prime Minister on taxing polluters.
He said: “The First Minister must send the Prime Minister a clear message – there can be no more buck-passing.
“It’s time the biggest and richest polluters pay for the damage they’re causing.
“By taking action to make polluters pay, and then spending the revenue on climate action, the UK Government can provide all UK nations with a significant financial boost.
“In Scotland, that means more to invest in a transition to net-zero that is not only quick, but also fair.”
Oxfam wants to see “common sense revenue raising measures” brought in by the UK Government including a permanent excess profits tax introduced for fossil fuel companies, as well diverting money that goes towards subsidising such companies through tax reliefs and other means to be spent in other ways.
It is also calling for a frequent flyer levy and a tax on super yachts to be introduced, to ensure the wealthiest citizens pay more.
It stressed the “onus of paying” for action on climate change “should not be split equally among the public”.
The report - entitled Payment Overdue: Fair Ways to make polluters across the UK pay for climate justice - highlights that while a cost-of-living crisis, surging energy bills and high inflation are piling particular pressure on lower-income households, oil and energy companies raked in record profits in 2022 and have reported billions of pounds more in profits so far this year.
Scottish ministers are also urged to consider imposing a higher rate of airport departure tax for private jets using Scottish airports, and to “transparently explore the use of devolved powers to implement a frequent flyer levy in Scotland”.
Oxfam Scotland says that increased funding flows to Scotland could have made buses free for many more people on low-incomes, such as people in receipt of social security payments and many unpaid carers.
Only people under 22, those aged over 60 and eligible disabled people can travel free by bus in Scotland even though they are disproportionately relied upon by people living in poverty and women.
Ryder-Jones said: “The prospect of significant new funds coming to Scotland should drive the First Minister to press the UK Government to act now; but he shouldn’t simply sit and wait.
“Instead, Humza Yousaf must get on and use all the levers at his disposal to make polluters pay for their damage.
“The climate bill is large and growing – it’s time for those who have done the most climate damage and who have the greatest financial capacity to pay up.”
Mairi McAllan, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, said: “From wildfires to flooding, the twin crises of climate change and nature loss are affecting our lives right now and the need for climate leadership could not be more urgent.
“As Oxfam’s report recognises, the majority of taxes remain reserved to the UK Government. The Scottish Government is committed to using the limited powers we do have to help meet our climate targets.
“By embedding the ‘polluter pays’ principle in our policy making, and continuing to take a progressive approach to tax, we will ensure that we achieve our goals while protecting those on the lowest incomes.
“The Scottish Government is delivering policies on a number of fronts to make sustainable travel choices more attractive – including free bus travel for younger and older people, and a six-month pilot to trial the removal of Scotrail peak-time rail fares – as we know that to reduce car use, public transport has to be available, affordable and accessible.”
A UK Government spokesperson said “Our windfall tax on oil and gas companies is expected to raise an extra £26 billion, whilst our tax system is also designed fairly so the richest bear the most burden – UK taxes on wealth are on par with other G7 countries and the top 5% of income taxpayers contribute half of all income tax.
“The UK is a world leader on net zero, cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country, and with 48% of our electricity coming from renewables in the first quarter of this year, the four largest operational wind farms in the world off our shores and significant investment in nuclear power, we expect that to continue.”