Green landowners to receive tax break

Landowners who opt to preserve habitats and biodiversity on their land are set to receive an income-tax deduction for their efforts, according to the Budget Review tabled by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel on Wednesday.

“Tax reforms to encourage biodiversity conservation by private landowners will be considered,” said the review.

The deduction will cover expenses incurred “in developing and implementing an approved conservation management plan under either the National Biodiversity Act, or the Protected Areas Act”.

The document said these will be limited to income “derived from the land”.

South African Revenue Service officials said the tax break will come into effect once the necessary legislation is in place, probably at the end of the year.

They stressed that the tax deduction applies only to those landowners who implement an approved conservation management plan.

The review also said the government is set to examine “impediments to tax deductions” for those who donate property to a public benefit organisation (PBO) or a parastatal conservation agency. This is property that is declared a nature reserve or national park under the Protected Areas Act.

A similar review will be conducted for estate duty, transfer duty or donations tax exemptions for “properties bequeathed, sold or donated to a PBO for declaration as a protected area under that Act”.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse-gas emissions by South Africa’s coal-fired power stations are “high and growing”, according to the Budget Review. The damage this causes is not taken into account in electricity prices, the document said.

“Current electricity prices ... do not account for the environmental damage caused by coal-fired electricity generation. South Africa’s emissions of air pollutants and carbon dioxide are high and growing—0,978 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh [megawatt hour] of electricity produced.”

By comparison, the figure for the United States is 0,703 tonnes, for the United Kingdom 0,586 tonnes and for Japan 0,392 tonnes.

About 96% of South Africa’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations.

Manuel said a number of options are being scrutinised in order to boost sustainable “green” development in the country. These include emission charges and tradable permits, tax incentives for cleaner production technologies, and reform of existing vehicle taxes to encourage fuel efficiency.

“A proposal to encourage biodiversity conservation by landowners through an income-tax deduction is under consideration,” he said.

He added that there is much to be done to develop specific measures, both on the tax and the spending side of the budget.

“I hope the House will encourage an energetic debate—if that is the right word—and we have to work hard at developing an understanding between very diverse groups of people: scientists, environmental activists, engineers, businessmen, workers, policy advisers, regulators and every one of us who enjoy the ordinary privilege of having access to light, heat, cooling, television, transport, communications and much else at the flick of a switch or the press of a button.”

The minister’s “greenish” budget also paid tribute to the efforts of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in playing an active role in the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In order to contribute to understanding the effects of climate change on the African continent, the department is to get R600-million to replace the ageing polar research vessel the SA Agulhas.

The department will also get R45-million to lead policy development and coordination within the government on issues related to climate change.

Paperwork

Meanwhile, a total of 726 trees, almost 37 tonnes of paper, were used for the paperwork and the documents of the 2008 national budget, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said.

Delivering his budget speech in the National Assembly, he said the Treasury’s work since January 1 has produced more than 38 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions from air travel and vehicle trips.

Copies of the four documents tabled, including the 786-page Estimates of National Expenditure, required 36 tonnes of paper. The Treasury’s internal work used up more than 600kg of paper.

Manuel said the department will measure and try to reduce its environmental footprint in future, and called on other departments to follow suit.—Sapa

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