Canada to tax private jets, cars, yachts as celebrities capture emissions

  • Canada adds a 10% tax to purchases of luxury aircraft, cars and boats.
  • It comes as US celebrities come under fire for the environmental impact of using private jets.
  • Some experts argue that focusing on individuals distracts from the need for larger climate initiatives.

As stars like Taylor Swift and Drake come under fire for using their private jets, Canada has revealed new details about how it hopes to make the wealthy think twice about contributing to the climate crisis with their extravagant modes of transportation.

The Luxury Goods Tax Act — which comes into effect on September 1 — will add a 10% tax to the full value of any Canadian purchases of aircraft and cars over $100,000, as well as boats over $250,000. These limits are in Canadian dollars and convert to approximately $78,000 and $194,000 respectively in US dollars.

The Canadian government argued that the tax would not only discourage the wealthy from buying emission-intensive vehicles, but also reduce inequality.

“Some Canadians have lost their jobs or small businesses, while some sectors of the economy have flourished,” a statement on the government’s website said. “That’s why it’s only fair today to ask those Canadians who can afford luxury items to contribute a little more.”

Details of the tax come after a recent report by Yard, a UK marketing firm, titled ‘Celebrities with the Worst Private Jet Co2 Emissions’. Using flight data from the popular Twitter account @CelebJets — which tracks the jets of the rich and famous — the report details the biggest “offenders” and their carbon footprints.

Pop star Taylor Swift came in at number one. As of the July 29 report, her private jet had flown 22,923 minutes or 15.9 days in 2022, emitting more than 8,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — more than 1,000 times the annual emissions of the average person. A 2021 Transport & Environment report found that a private jet can emit the same level of carbon dioxide in four hours as the average person in the European Union produces in an entire year. Boxer Floyd Mayweather, musician Jay-Z and former baseball player Alex Rodriguez followed Swift on the list.

However, some of the celebrities disputed the report. A representative for Swift, for example, told the Washington Post that the musician’s jet is “regularly loaned out to other people,” suggesting that many of the trips were not her own. A lawyer for Jay-Z, meanwhile, said the rapper does not own the jet in question.

Although Yard’s analysis is not peer-reviewed and, as the authors point out, “there is no way to determine whether these celebrities were on all recorded flights,” the report highlights the environmental impact that celebrities, politicians, corporate executives and other wealthy individuals can cause through significant use of private jets and other actions. An Oxfam 2021 analysis found that in 2015, the richest 1% accounted for 15% of global carbon emissions. The Yard report, combined with Canada’s luxury tax law, suggest this scrutiny isn’t going away anytime soon.

The luxury tax has been criticized for hurting the airline industry and overburdening private citizens for the climate crisis

The new Canadian tax has been criticized by the business community. Some argued it could have “severe implications” for an airline industry that has already faced challenges during the pandemic — potentially leading to the loss of at least 900 jobs.

“The economic impact of the luxury tax will be significant and has not been studied with a full understanding of our industry,” said Anthony Norejko, President and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association, in a statement.

When it comes to celebrity criticism, some experts say that focusing too much on the actions of any one person can distract from the policy changes needed to make real progress, such as important climate legislation currently pending in Congress. Others have pointed to how the oil company BP, for example, launched a carbon footprint calculator in the mid-2000s to put the onus of climate action more on individuals, rather than on the fossil fuel industry.

“My feeling is that while I would prefer Taylor Swift to make more responsible transportation decisions, yelling at celebrities online is not on my personal list of 10 policy levers,” NASA climatologist Kate Marvel told Axios.

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