When requested to contribute a personal note to accompany inclusion as one of the highly regarded female tax experts in Israel, an interesting opportunity presented itself. Rather than submitting a pointed summary of recent tax developments or a report of the progress of Women Tax Leaders in our industry in Israel, the writer would like to take this chance to address the audience of this guide on a subject as important as BEPS.
While the OECD and seasoned tax experts in the business world are looking to finalise the BEPS discussion regarding the taxation of the digital economy in all its facets – to fit the new global economy – concerns of potentially greater importance, those regarding the environment, seem to remain of secondary importance to global tax policy-makers.
As is known, the allocation of taxing rights under BEPS evolves around the presence and their location of 'Functions, Assets and/or Risk' (FAR). When, in August, 200 CEOs of major US corporations released a statement that the first and foremost function of a corporation is no longer to primarily serve the interests of the shareholders or to maximise profits, a new corporate thinking is advocated by the corporates themselves. When these CEOs announced their new corporate goals to be investment in employees, the delivery of value to customers, to deal in a moral way with suppliers and to care for the environment and sustainability.
This revolutionary recognition, by big name captains of industry, of the social and environmental responsibility of the corporate world is inextricably connected with the need to now actively promote environmentally driven tax measures. The revision of taxation principles by the OECD BEPS process did not, and does not, busy itself with the 'FAR' that is Earth's heritage. Tax experts, both in the private sector and in policy-making circles, know that the real work in the area of taxation and development of new tax policies is actually still ahead. …. From BEPS to NEPS: Nature Erosion and Pollution Stoppage.
Only the commitment to implement, by both OECD and non-OECD member countries, substantial tax legislation encouraging protection of the environment could secure the 'sustainability' we proclaim to be looking for. The 'price' of environmental damage rests on all , and on future generations as long as our tax systems up to today do not yet, whether directly or indirectly, allocate costs of pollution to the actual polluter and only marginally encourage the discovery and development of green solutions.
Interestingly the NGO's who secured their many 'public relations' BEPS victories, by demanding, through the press and by serious lobbying, that big international companies now be stopped from 'ducking taxes', have not – with a vengeance in any way similar – demanded the creation and implementation of 'green tax' systems. This may be because promoting a demand for environmentally friendly tax systems is a lot less attractive than running a BEPS campaign. And now, after the success of the diligent work of these NGOs has actually re-positioned the OECD as the global champion of modern tax thinking, it can now confidently move on to launch its NEPS consultations tomorrow and decide to force member countries to implement clear and defined green tax measures under the guidance of the OECD.
Tax is the proper economic tool to manage the environment and trigger behavioral changes by companies, organisations and households. The best and most effective tools to help push back CO2 emissions, shrink the plastic bags puddle at the bottom of our oceans, encourage green construction, reconstruct our forests and limit the use of disposables are "taxes". And the foregoing are only a few examples of our planet's endangered FAR; we have yet to pay the ferryman.
Research by OECD, inter alia, has amply shown that taxes can prevent and push back pollution, could reduce emissions and trigger increased research to cleaner and more sustainable technologies and alternatives. More than 25% of energy-related CO2 emissions emanate from 'transport', and greener mobility is high on the global climate agenda. Israel, my country, introduced a 'green reform' in 2009, inter alia lowering the purchase tax on green cars by 20% on the average. The resulting CO2 reduction per vehicle was substantial and a 2017 OECD report concluded that Israel's solution had proven very efficient in achieving the desired environmental and economic goals.
Israel's Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investments awards corporate income tax benefits for the development of technologies, including specifically clean technologies, and a corporate income tax rate as low as 7% for income from home-grown green technological solutions. The Israel Innovation Center, for instance, can even participate in green economy initiatives and mutual partnerships have developed with other government ministries including the Ministry of Environmental Protection and of Energy, Water and National Infrastructures. The firm of Pearl Cohen in Tel Aviv, of which the undersigned runs the tax department, is the number one firm in Israel on all matters of 'intellectual property' and 'innovation', highly expert in all relevant IP related tax fields, both internationally as well as domestically. Green technology and tax solutions regarding IP are a large natural part of the activities our tax department.
In its existing work Tax and the Environment, the OECD investigated whether and how countries can leverage their taxing powers to control pollution and save the environment. In its research, the OECD also contemplates the implementation of trading systems for 'permits to pollute'. The organisation is aware of the impact of environmental taxes on competitiveness and equity. On the other hand, when commitments to put a heavier tax tag on pollution are clinched, the market value of clean technologies will shoot up and encourage the discovery of new ground-breaking green solutions. In Israel, the Innovation Center of the government has consistently encouraged Clean Tech investment, already for over decade, in a young and sweeping 'technological' economy which has typically been innovation driven.
The recent Business Roundtable statement of the 200 courageous CEOs should cause experts in tax, women and men, to join and promote the obligation to implement 'clean tax' measures worldwide. Mother Earths FAR is the heritage we leave to our children and – after them – to generations to come. It is high time to be courageous and demand NEPS, and that green tax commitments be designed as forcefully, purposefully and swiftly as was BEPS.