Beech Fagus sylvatica, autumnal colours, Bedfordshire, England

Green taxes

We support the use of green taxes and economic instruments to achieve environmental goals in the most efficient manner possible.


We support the use of green taxes and economic instruments to achieve environmental goals in the most efficient manner possible.

Green taxes give consumers and businesses strong financial incentives to reduce their negative environmental impacts and can ensure prices reflect environmental costs, implementing the ‘polluter pays principle’. They also generate revenue which can be used to fund environmental programmes or reduce other taxes.

Below is a selection of environmental taxes which we’ve previously examined. We do not support all of the following measures implicitly, but have investigated these as potential policy options for governments across the UK.

Fairy Glen RSPB reserve. Foliage: young leaves back-lit, glow a vivid green. The Black Isle, Ross-shire, near Rosemarkie, Scotland


Peatlands are home to a multitude of species, including unique insect-eating plants, butterflies, dragonflies and numerous birds, which would struggle for survival if their habitat was completely lost.

However, 94 per cent of this habitat in the UK has been lost. Even now peat is being harvested at a rate of almost 1 million cubic metres per year.  As well as damaging wildlife, this activity has significant implications for carbon emissions, with 150,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted per year.

The use of peat products, such as compost, is levelling out, even though green substitutes with better performance are readily available. A peat tax, either on peat products or on extraction, could address the damages done by the industry. Damage to peatland habitats could be discouraged and any revenues from tax re-invested into delivering benefits to society.

For more information on how a levy could help tackle the problem of peat, download our 'Greening UK Gardening' report.

RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland


A levy proposal for peat use in horticulture. PDF, 610Kb.

Greening UK Gardens


The use of pesticides has been shown to damage wildlife and biodiversity, both on the land and in our waterways.

The damages done to certain species could be undermining the sustainability of the agricultural sector as well as the UK natural environment. 13 per cent of agricultural incomes are supported by pollination services and there is mounting evidence that the use of pesticides could be related to declines in UK bees, who deliver this service.

Voluntary Initiatives around pesticide use have been useful in raising awareness and encouraging better agricultural practice.

However, biodiversity indicators, such as the numbers of farmland birds, are still declining, implying a stronger approach from the government may be needed. A pesticides tax could help protect our natural environment, promote research into environmentally friendly alternatives and support agricultural incomes in the long term.

Crop spraying


Agriculture currently stands out as a significant net contributor to diffuse water pollution in the UK.

Defra has found 60 per cent of nitrates, 25 per cent of phosphorus and 80 per cent of sediments are attributable to the sector. However, for the first round of the River Basin Management Planning as part of the Water Framework Directive, the agricultural sector is contributing just 0.1 per cent of the clean-up funds.

A tax on the most damaging fertilisers could raise revenue for achieving WFD objectives and encourage the use of more environmentally friendly products.

Agriculture; staff at work: Applying 16-10-10 compound fertiliser (arable rotation - spring-sown oats & grassland). Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll.


Following concerns about the impact of carbon emissions on our climate and the consequent threat to wildlife, we’ve investigated a number of related taxation issues. We supported the introduction of the Climate Change Levy - a tax on energy provided to businesses, in 2001.

We have also supported fuel taxation in the past and certain forms of aviation tax. 15 per cent of UK carbon emissions are currently caused by travel.

We encourage the use of public transport and the movement of freight by rail and sea. Aviation contributes more carbon emissions per mile travelled than any other form of transport and total emissions are rapidly growing, where other forms of transport emissions are declining.

Faced with the threat of climate chaos, reform is needed to ensure that prices more accurately reflect the damage done to the environment within the industry.

Recording data at a dipwell, Forsinard Flows RSPB nature reserve, Sutherland, Highland region, Scotland