Has the WEF proposed a tax on water?

A short clip which appears to show a World Economic Forum (WEF) official speaking at a WEF event has been circulating on social media and local chat groups. The most viral post specifically attributes the following quote to the speaker:

Other Aspects of nature that are easy to quantify should be charged for! We probably won’t be able to charge tax on all of nature on day one. But let’s start by adding tax to water.”The claim posts suggest that the WEF is proposing water as a taxable commodity – framing this clip as proposal from the WEF for a water tax. Comments and other posts further suggest that that individuals will start being taxed for consuming water and other natural resources such as air or oxygen.Where is it from?

Although most of the viral clips do not name the individual in the clip nor do they link the full video or mention the specific WEF event, we identified the individual as Ms Gim Huay Neo who is Managing Director, Centre for Nature, and Climate at the World Economic Forum.

A reverse image search did not bring up the source video for the clip and obtaining further context about the topic being addressed proved difficult with basic searches. However, the final moments of the clip feature a wide shot with text on the background behind Ms Gim that reads: “Annual Meeting of the New Champions Dalian 2024.”The Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC) is a yearly event held by the WEF. The 2024 event was held in Dalian,  People’s Republic of China, from 25 to 27 June. Full recordings have been uploaded on the AMNC event page, and we were able to find the full panel which featured Ms Gim as a speaker.

The panel was held on 26 June and was titled “Understanding Nature’s Ledger.” Panellists discussed how Natural Capital (defined as “the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things”) fits into the present and future global economy – bringing up a range of issues, strategies, and imperatives.

Rather than being a panellist, Ms Gim was called on to provide closing remarks and spoke for 6 minutes after the hour-long panel. We have transcribed the full section of her remarks which precede and follow the widely shared clip (portion from the claim clip bolded):

What does it mean?

The complex nature of the text and topic makes this claim more challenging to fact-check. Has the WEF proposed a tax on water? Is the claim accurate in how it describes Ms Gim’s words? Is there any merit in the notion of a “water tax”?

Firstly, the WEF serves as an international organisation that engages both public and private sectors but does not have the power to institute and enforce any policy or tax. While the WEF does launch various initiatives involving health, society or the environment and has done so during forums and annual meetings, it does not make major announcements through the closing remarks of panels. The claim that Ms Gim’s short closing remarks represent a proposal or concrete plan from/by the WEF appears to be an overstatement.

Secondly, when comparing the claim post (top) to the transcript (bottom), the words attributed to Ms Gim have clearly been altered to sound more actionable and inflammatory. The addition of terms like “charged for!” and entirely new sentences (“but let’s start by adding tax to water”) greatly alter the original text and its original context.Ms Gim’s original remarks were made in the context of integrating Natural Capital (which includes water) into the current economic system. She brought up water as a resource that might be integrated into the global economic system as climate-related issues (e.g., global warming or water scarcity) continue to emerge and impact industries and economies. This has been done previously with carbon emissions through carbon taxes – where an aspect of nature that is heavily integral to the global economy was integrated into pricing mechanisms through taxation. [1]

Ms Gim did not go into specifics about any possible action or plan involving water and did not mention a water tax at all.  Her words reflecting on the content of the panel have been embellished and given a far more concrete meaning by the claim posts than the actual text suggests.

While her words do not exclude the possibility of water (particularly water as Natural Capital) being taxed, the presentation of information in the claim has led some to believe that a water tax might be levied on individuals – or that plans for a water tax are in the works. We could find no evidence of either being the case.

Therefore, we give the linked claim posts a rating of false. The clip is not evidence of the WEF proposing a water tax.

However, this does not exclude future strategies or mooted plans that could involve taxing the use of water in certain contexts – be it from the WEF or other parties. In fact, we found articles by other think tanks and research groups who have already discussed that possibility.

It is true that water as a commodity is a crucial part of the global system today – vital to industry and manufacturing and sustaining life, agriculture, and economies. It is also well documented that water scarcity is a looming issue – and that maintaining a supply of freshwater contributes significantly to carbon emissions.

These concerns are long-term and important ones. However, the conversations (and perhaps even valid critiques) surrounding them are made challenging and fraught when claims such as this one flatten and misrepresent key information. Coupled with persistent claims and conspiracies surrounding the WEF (BDR and other fact-checking organisations have covered a number of these), an environment of distrust and misinformation has made discussions about Climate Change difficult – particularly in digital spaces such as social media.

[1] A carbon tax is levied on carbon emissions that come from the production of goods and services – acting as an incentive for organisations and industries to lower carbon emissions and a disincentive for products and services which have high carbon emissions. Carbon taxes (which have been implemented by a number of governments worldwide) are designed to, broadly, reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change.

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