With the At the Waterline blog, I’m writing about water issues as I learn about them. Almost every day, I learn something new. It’s exciting, but it also makes me feel perpetually late to the party. Today I saw that people have been entering “Jorge Viñuales” into the blog’s search box, so I looked him up. That led me to a 13-month-old YouTube video entitled, “A Tax on Bottled Water: Jorge Viñuales at TEDx Zurich.”
In the video, Viñuales, a lawyer and law professor (see credentials below), suggests a small transactional tax on bottled water that would be used “(1) for the protection of the natural infrastructures that maintain the water cycle, i.e. wetlands, (2) for direct local water distribution and sanitation projects (e.g. for the coordination of inter-city projects), and (3) for research on water efficiency, decontamination and alternative techniques (e.g. exploitation of melting iced-water).”
Citing the $50 billion European bottled water market as an example, Viñuales says that a 3% tax could raise $1.5 billion (presumably annually). Viñuales acknowledges that some people think we all should stop drinking bottled water entirely, but he argues that “sermonizing” people is not the best way to effect environmental policy change. As such, he suggests what seems like a more practical step, in order “to link water as a luxury to a real problem … access to water as a human need.”
Whether bleeding bottled-water companies financially would work in practice, and do enough to fund programs to help those in immediate need as well as discover new or more efficient ways to get freshwater, are other questions — ones that a 12-minute TED talk can’t cover in any depth. Viñuales did mention, however, his work on a legal framework to manage freshwater resources trapped in ice (e.g., towing icebergs; extracting freshwater from icebergs is a serious subject of study).
Viñuales is a practicing lawyer, the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, and a Visiting Professor of International Law at The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland, during the academic year 2013-2014. Two of Viñuales’ most recent books are Foreign Investment and the Environment in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Harnessing Foreign Investment to Promote Environmental Protection: Incentives and Safeguards (Cambridge University Press, 2013, co-edited with P.-M. Dupuy),