web analytics

Polity: English lies on impact of tax switch

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, January 15th, 2014 - 15 comments
Categories: bill english, gst, national, national/act government, poverty, same old national, tax - Tags: ,

polity_square_for_lynnRob Salmond at Polity has this post out on the effect of the 2010 tax cuts and the lies about fiscal neutrality that Bill English said then and has been repeating ever since.

Bill English recently heralded his tax switch as making net tax more progressive. He lied. It actually made net tax at least $500 million more regressive.

In October last year, here is what Bill English said about the results of his 2010 tax switch of cutting income taxes and raising GST:

Lower income households are paying a smaller proportion of net income tax than they did in 2008, indicating that the tax system has become more progressive since the Government’s tax changes in 2010, Finance Minister Bill English says.

“This should contribute to improvements in income equality in New Zealand, contrary to the Opposition’s completely false claims that lower income households were disadvantaged by the tax changes,” he says.

It was great to see Bill English saying a more progressive tax system is a good thing. I agree with him.

But I wasn’t convinced his numbers stacked up. In particular I was worried about what shenanigans could be lurking behind the term “net income tax”. Why specify income tax? Why not net tax overall, to account for the Budget 2010 changes in GST, too?

Getting hold of the numbers

Bill Engish has a history of massaging net tax numbers beyond credibility, and I have form in finding him out, both on blogs and in print. So naturally I requested the Treasury advice under the OIA. After some English-orchestrated delays, the documents finally came back to me the Thursday before Christmas.1

Here are the three most eye opening parts of the Treasury’s advice:

This note responds to a request for analysis of the redistributive impact of the Budget 2010 tax changes. Specifically, we have been asked to compare profiles of income tax paid, transfers received, and net tax paid (income tax minus transfers) by household income, pre and post 2010.

This shows that the decision to look at income tax only, and not GST, came from the those tasking Treasury (ie. Bill English), and not from Treasury officials.

However, it is difficult to determine the extent to which these changes in the distribution of net [income] tax paid were caused by the Budget 2010 tax policy changes, as opposed to other factors.

Indeed. For example, tens of thousands of low income people have lost their jobs and now have to take an unemployment benefit because of National’s jobless recovery. (Don’t need to be a rocket scientist to come up with that alternative explanation.) That means those people pay less net tax than they did when they had a job, because now they receive more in transfers. Bill English takes this as a cause for net tax celebrations.

It is also important to note that this distributional analysis does not incorporate GST, which was an important part of the Budget 2010 tax policy changes.

Which shows that the Treasury went out of its way to warn Minister English that the analysis in the paper he ordered up was half-baked and could be inaccurate. But Minister English did not listen.

Accounting for GST

GST is a huge part of the Budget 2010 changes, and a huge part of the tax people pay. New Zealand individuals paid around $46 billion in all taxes in 2011/12, and around $15 billion of that was GST. Doing net tax calculations while excluding GST is like doing calorie counts while excluding nibbles, dessert, and drinks.

Treasury did not account for the impact of GST because Bill English told them not to. But I can, and I have. Here are the results. Some highlights:2

  • English overstates the impact on top earners by a factor of eleven. Yes, eleven. He thinks these households pay 6.7% more of the net tax than before; in fact they pay only 0.6% more.
  • Across the whole income range, English overestimates the distributional impact since 2010 by a factor of between three and four. He says households earning under $70,000 pay 26% less of the net tax than before; while those earning over $70,000 pay 26% more of it. In fact, the difference is only 7%.
  • English says the 117,000 households earning $30,000 to $40,000 take $238 million more in transfers than they pay in tax; in fact those households pay $360 million in overall net taxes than they receive in transfers.

This is embarrassing for a Finance Minister. Armed with an entire Treasury to help get his sums right, he still makes $600 million errors over here, and factor-of-eleven overstatements over there.

Correlation and causation

So, is the tax system more progressive because of the tax switch, or not? This is an issue Treasury raised in their advice to English. And the truth is that the Budget 2010 changes did not have a positive redistributional impact in New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand’s tax-and-transfer system has become more progressive despite Budget 2010’s tax changes, not because of them. Here’s why:

  • The 7% drop in overall net taxes paid by households earning under $70,000 represents around $1.8 billion in total.
  • The Treasury’s advice to English shows that expenditure on benefits for this under $70,000 group grew by $2.3 billion over the period in question.3
  • This means all of the $1.8 billion in net tax savings for low income households, and another $500 million besides, is caused by more of them being stuck on benefits.

Once more for emphasis: New Zealand’s tax-and-transfer system is more progressive now than in 2008because more people are receiving transfers. Not because of the tax switch. For obvious reasons, that is no victory at all. And this answer about causation was literally staring English in the face in the Treasury’s advice, and still he chose to ignore it.

In fact, the changes to the tax system have the effect of making the system less progressive to the tune of $500 million. To the best of our ability to see counterfactuals, if the tax system had stayed unchanged in 2010 then the tax-and-transfer system would today be $500 million more progressive than it actually is.

This shows that National’s tax switch was a failure, even according to Bill English’s own data and Bill English’s own yardstick. He should be ashamed mainly of the regressive impact of his tax policy, and also of the shoddy work he forced his Treasury to perform.

Bill English serially misleads the public on tax, because he does not want New Zealanders to know the truth – that his government enriches its friends at the expense of everyone else.

  • 1. Why the delay in answering my OIA? Well, I requested the information in October from two organisations, Minister English’s office and the Treasury itself. English then took 20 days to transfer my request of his office to go to the Treasury instead, while Treasury gave itself an extension on its OIA to consult-more-than-usual with English’s office. That way, the information conveniently came to my just as everyone was turning out the lights for Christmas. All of which goes to show that Bill English knew he had made some embarrassing errors in these calculations, and wanted to hide it all from the public.
  • 2. I used the decile-based estimates of “GST exposure” from the government’s own Tax Working Group to do this analysis, assigning income bands to exposure levels based on which decile they fall in. I was forced to make some simplifying assumptions, including on the median income in the open-ended top income bracket, because unlike English I did not have the full resources of a government department helping me. I do not think these assumptions drive the results.
  • 3. Most of this is due to unemployment going persistently up under National.

15 comments on “Polity: English lies on impact of tax switch”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    “This means all of the $1.8 billion in net tax savings for low income households, and another $500 million besides, is caused by more of them being stuck on benefits.”

    I don’t follow this conclusion.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.1

      $2.3B – $1.8B = $0.5B = $500M

    • karol 1.2

      The “net tax savings” are about low income people paying less tax. Many have lost their jobs, lowering the amount of tax they pay. Therefore they’re counted as a saving from paying less tax as a result of the tax switch – actually, they are paying less tax because of a drop in income resulting from losing jobs and becoming dependent on benefits.

      • You_Fool 1.2.1

        better yet for Mr English, because they are receiving benefits they count as reducing the net tax twice, first by not having to pay as much, and second by receiving money from the govt. Win-Win for Mr English! And you thought the high unemployment was a bad thing, it makes the tax system more progressive!

    • It’s a beautiful example of weaselry as a high art. Goes like this:

      if you lose your job, you end up on a benefit and don’t pay so much income tax;

      if a great many people lose their jobs and don’t pay so much income tax (because they’re now eking out a living from the unemployment benefit), the overall share of the income tax take that’s being paid by lower-income earners goes down;

      which means the Minister of Finance can put out a press release saying that his taxation system is more progressive because lower-income earners are now paying a lower share of the income tax the govt receives;

      which makes the Minister of Finance a lying weasel.

    • Will@Welly 1.4

      You also need to take into account the number of people who have had their hours reduced during the financial crisis, thereby reducing their income and the amount of tax they pay.
      What you also find is that when “old jobs that disappeared” are reactivated, they tend to come back on stream at the same or a lesser rate than they were previously. No adjustment is ever made for inflation.

  2. Tracey 2

    All those numbers… people like chris infused and bm will blank it. Say no one cares and then excuse it as a lie cos they dont understand it.

    • infused 2.1

      Which is pretty much what you’ve done. Congrats.

      I only comment on issues I actually have an interest in. Mostly tech related posts.

      This isn’t one of them.

  3. PG 3

    “Most of [the $2.3b increase in benefits to households earning less than $70,000] is due to unemployment going persistently up under National.”

    Rubbish. On comparing Notes 5 from the Crown Financial Statements at 30 June 2013 & 30 June 2010:

    – total transfers increased by $1.8b

    – transfers clearly not related to individuals being out of work (NZ super, family tax credits & student allowances) increased by $1.77b

    – transfers definitely / potentially related to individuals being out of work (unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, invalids benefit, disability benefit & ‘other social assistance benefits’) increased by just $41m.

    • TRACEY 3.1

      I confess that numbers aren’t my thing. Are you saying English’s assertions were correct?

  4. red blooded 4

    An engrossing discussion (bad pun – sorry). Thorough and well argued. Now, how’s this thinking going to be publicised in the wider world? Has this info been provided to opposition parties? I can see a great series of Ministerial questions arising from this.

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    I’d be interested to see a broader view of government finacial performance, because I have a feeling that the tax figures alone produce a misleading impression, and that Bill English has clearly exerted himself to maximise this effect.

    But there are other government mediated costs than tax, and also other sources of government income. Speeding fines, user charges, and so on have proliferated over the last three decades and represent a small but increasing proportion of cost of living.

    And the government exercise of sovereign currency privileges, as in the case of paying off SCF creditors or of creating student loans – are these exercised impartially?

    I might be less critical if his economic management anywhere approached competence, but I’m compelled to notice that on top on these punitive and regressive tax changes, the Gnat hydra under English has consistently failed to achieve even moderate growth. This represents a shameful level of incompetence, and replacing him with someone who knows what they are doing is frankly an urgent national priority.

  6. TRACEY 6

    Funny how all those squealing about brown must go are absent from this thread where, if true, the MOF is proven to be a liar about the impact his policies have had on the economy….

    and funny how all those who said brown mustnt go cos it was sex and didnt affect his job also dont comment on this behaviour which clearly does affect the second most powerful person in NZ’s, job.

    does this suggest some economic illiteracy which makes both supporters and detractors unable to comment due to lack of understanding, which doesn’t usually stop some?

  7. dave 7

    bullshit bill strikes again

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Andrew Little visits Zaatari refugee camp
    Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, has visited the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, Zaatari in Jordan, a day after seeing New Zealand troops at Camp Taji in Iraq. Mr Little spent several hours in the camp, meeting… ...
    4 hours ago
  • Com Com’s Z Energy decision anti-competitive
    The Commerce Commission’s decision to allow Z Energy to buy Caltex can only undermine the competition in the fuel industry that is needed to ensure New Zealanders pay the lowest price for petrol, Labour’s Consumer Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says.… ...
    13 hours ago
  • Com Com’s Z Energy decision anti-competitive
    The Commerce Commission’s decision to allow Z Energy to buy Caltex can only undermine the competition in the fuel industry that is needed to ensure New Zealanders pay the lowest price for petrol, Labour’s Consumer Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says.… ...
    13 hours ago
  • OAG raps Govt over the knuckles on HNZ contracts
    The Government has been rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General over its failure to properly manage $2.3m of contracts and conflicts of interest in relation to a merchant banker advising them on the state house sell-off, says Labour’s… ...
    1 day ago
  • OAG raps Govt over the knuckles on HNZ contracts
    The Government has been rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General over its failure to properly manage $2.3m of contracts and conflicts of interest in relation to a merchant banker advising them on the state house sell-off, says Labour’s… ...
    1 day ago
  • Brownlee must step in as EQC spin exposed
    Gerry Brownlee needs to step in after EQC’s desperate spin in the wake of yesterday’s landmark settlement has been exposed by its own documents, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. “Yesterday’s settlement showed that thousands of homes may not have… ...
    1 day ago
  • Brownlee must step in as EQC spin exposed
    Gerry Brownlee needs to step in after EQC’s desperate spin in the wake of yesterday’s landmark settlement has been exposed by its own documents, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. “Yesterday’s settlement showed that thousands of homes may not have… ...
    1 day ago
  • OIO must explain Argentine pollution prosecutions
    The Overseas Investment Office (OIO)has questions to answer about how it safeguarded our sensitive land by allowing foreign investors with criminal prosecutions to purchase Onetai Station in Taranaki, says Labour’s Land Information spokesperson David Cunliffe.   “Rafael and Federico Grozovsky… ...
    1 day ago
  • Aussie banks in NZ should ban lending to offshore buyers
    ASB, Westpac and ANZ must confirm whether or not they will continue to fund the over-heated property market by lending to non-resident offshore home buyers, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “This issue has arisen because their parent banks have… ...
    1 day ago
  • Aussie banks in NZ should ban lending to offshore buyers
    ASB, Westpac and ANZ must confirm whether or not they will continue to fund the over-heated property market by lending to non-resident offshore home buyers, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “This issue has arisen because their parent banks have… ...
    1 day ago
  • Murray McCully needs to come clean over Tokelau ferry debacle
    Foreign Minister Murray McCully needs to come clean on why a New Zealand aid-funded vessel intended to service the Tokelau Islands is delayed, over budget and failed its sea trials, Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says. “The new ship… ...
    2 days ago
  • Full independent inquiry needed to save New Zealand’s reputation
    Revelations that John Key's personal lawyer and trust advisor led a lobbying campaign to shut down a review of New Zealand's foreign trust regime makes the case for a full scale independent inquiry a matter of urgency, Labour's Finance spokesperson… ...
    2 days ago
  • Full independent inquiry needed to save New Zealand’s reputation
    Revelations that John Key's personal lawyer and trust advisor led a lobbying campaign to shut down a review of New Zealand's foreign trust regime makes the case for a full scale independent inquiry a matter of urgency, Labour's Finance spokesperson… ...
    2 days ago
  • Andrew Little visits NZ troops in Iraq and refugees in Jordan
    Opposition Leader Andrew Little has visited New Zealand troops at Camp Taji, Iraq. Mr Little also met with Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obedih and senior military officials from the Coalition forces in Iraq. He now heads to Jordan to see… ...
    2 days ago
  • Workplace death toll still too high
    It’s a damning indictment on the Government that as workers gather to remember their lost workmates on Worker’s Memorial Day, New Zealand’s workplace death toll is still far too high, Labour’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway says. “At… ...
    2 days ago
  • Workplace death toll still too high
    It’s a damning indictment on the Government that as workers gather to remember their lost workmates on Worker’s Memorial Day, New Zealand’s workplace death toll is still far too high, Labour’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway says. “At… ...
    2 days ago
  • Minister must come clean on implications of landmark settlement
    Gerry Brownlee has urgent and serious questions to answer in the wake of today’s landmark EQC settlement, which potentially has major implications for thousands of Cantabrians, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. ...
    2 days ago
  • Mossack Fonseca links to OIO approvals must be investigated
    The Minister for Land Information must investigate and disclose how many applications to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) have links to Mossack Fonseca, says Labour’s Land Information spokesperson David Cunliffe. “Labour can now reveal the OIO approved an application from… ...
    2 days ago
  • Mossack Fonseca links to OIO approvals must be investigated
    The Minister for Land Information must investigate and disclose how many applications to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) have links to Mossack Fonseca, says Labour’s Land Information spokesperson David Cunliffe. “Labour can now reveal the OIO approved an application from… ...
    2 days ago
  • Govt complacency leaves RB no room to cut
    The Government has put the economy in a holding pattern, leaving the Reserve Bank Governor with little room to manoeuvre as he tries to balance a rampant housing market with non-existent inflation, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Graeme Wheeler… ...
    2 days ago
  • Govt complacency leaves RB no room to cut
    The Government has put the economy in a holding pattern, leaving the Reserve Bank Governor with little room to manoeuvre as he tries to balance a rampant housing market with non-existent inflation, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Graeme Wheeler… ...
    2 days ago
  • Dam not out of doldrums yet
    Ruataniwha Dam promoters Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) still has hurdles to clear and a lot of work to do before ratepayers and taxpayers will have confidence in the scheme, says Labour’s MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti Meka Whaitiri.“We need sustainable… ...
    3 days ago
  • New study shows Smith’s insulation fails Kiwi kids
    A new Otago University study shows Nick Smith’s inadequate insulation standards will see hundreds of children unnecessarily hospitalised for housing-related illnesses every year, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. ...
    3 days ago
  • Government out of touch on foreign trusts
    John Key’s poor handling of the foreign trusts issue is starkly revealed in a poll today which shows the majority of Kiwis are worried about the country being a tax haven and almost half think the issue has been badly… ...
    3 days ago
  • Government out of touch on foreign trusts
    John Key’s poor handling of the foreign trusts issue is starkly revealed in a poll today which shows the majority of Kiwis are worried about the country being a tax haven and almost half think the issue has been badly… ...
    3 days ago
  • Biggest trade deficit for 7 years a warning for Govt
    The biggest trade deficit for seven years shows the Government can’t be so complacent about the economy and must take action to diversify and encourage exports, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The biggest driver has been the fall in… ...
    3 days ago
  • Biggest trade deficit for 7 years a warning for Govt
    The biggest trade deficit for seven years shows the Government can’t be so complacent about the economy and must take action to diversify and encourage exports, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The biggest driver has been the fall in… ...
    3 days ago
  • Government’s record on climate change under fire
      The Royal Society’s latest report on climate change has made it clear that it believes the Government’s current approach to climate change is inadequate, says Labour’s spokesperson on Climate Change Megan Woods.  “The report, ‘Transition to a low-carbon economy… ...
    3 days ago
  • Government’s record on climate change under fire
      The Royal Society’s latest report on climate change has made it clear that it believes the Government’s current approach to climate change is inadequate, says Labour’s spokesperson on Climate Change Megan Woods.  “The report, ‘Transition to a low-carbon economy… ...
    3 days ago
  • Mainfreight director agrees with Labour on rail funding
    Richard Prebble – in the past accused of ruining rail and now a director of Mainfreight – agrees with Labour that secure funding for KiwiRail is the best way to minimise congestion in our major cities, says Labour’s SOEs spokesperson… ...
    3 days ago
  • Mainfreight director agrees with Labour on rail funding
    Richard Prebble – in the past accused of ruining rail and now a director of Mainfreight – agrees with Labour that secure funding for KiwiRail is the best way to minimise congestion in our major cities, says Labour’s SOEs spokesperson… ...
    3 days ago
  • Government to Reserve Bank – Rock or Hard Place?
    The Government’s complacency on the housing crisis and the economy has put the Reserve Bank Governor in a no-win position as he contemplates the OCR tomorrow, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Graeme Wheeler is stuck between a rock and… ...
    4 days ago
  • Government to Reserve Bank – Rock or Hard Place?
    The Government’s complacency on the housing crisis and the economy has put the Reserve Bank Governor in a no-win position as he contemplates the OCR tomorrow, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Graeme Wheeler is stuck between a rock and… ...
    4 days ago
  • John Key’s land tax could push up rents
    A land tax proposed by John Key as the answer to the housing crisis could push up rents and risks having no effect on skyrocketing prices, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “The Government needs to explain why the thousands… ...
    4 days ago
  • Government should ban foreign speculators
    The Prime Minister’s musings about a land tax on non-resident buyers is just more tinkering, and the Government should just ban foreign speculators as the Australian Government has done, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “This is classic John Key.… ...
    4 days ago
  • Government must protect Pharmac as promised
    John Key must tell New Zealanders that he will not bow to pressure from wealthy drug companies or their US negotiators and put Kiwi lives at risk, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says.   “News reports today have the drug… ...
    4 days ago
  • Action not words, needed on housing speculation
    John Key should be taking action to crack down on speculation in our overheated housing market, instead of random musings on land tax, Labour Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said.  "John Key suggested today on TVNZ's Q and A programme that… ...
    6 days ago
  • Tertiary education cost rising 7x faster than inflation
    New figures show the cost of tertiary education is rising seven times faster than inflation, putting post-school education out of the reach of many, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says.  “Figures release this week show how much more students or their… ...
    6 days ago
  • Buying Lotto is not an arts funding strategy
    The Government must rethink the way the arts are funded after falling Lotto sales has left the sector with declining resources and increasingly vulnerable, Labour’s Arts, Culture and Heritage spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says.  “Our arts sector is in a sorry… ...
    6 days ago
  • Parents hit in pocket by Government under-funding
    Parents and families are left forking out more and more for their kids’ education as a direct result of Government under-funding, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.  “The latest data shows that the cost to families of primary and secondary… ...
    7 days ago
  • Scientists ‘gasping for oxygen’ under National
     Steven Joyce's claims to be creating a science and innovation hub in New Zealand are a sham based on PR fluff, says Labour's Science and Innovation Spokesperson David Cunliffe.  “A damning critique of the science funding model by the New… ...
    1 week ago
  • Scientists ‘gasping for oxygen’ under National
     Steven Joyce's claims to be creating a science and innovation hub in New Zealand are a sham based on PR fluff, says Labour's Science and Innovation Spokesperson David Cunliffe.  “A damning critique of the science funding model by the New… ...
    1 week ago
  • Water for grass
    Last Saturday, my colleague Eugenie Sage took me for a drive across the Canterbury Plains. I had seen from the air the landuse changes across the plains in recent times; a patchwork of crops and stock raising has been transformed… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Water for grass
    Last Saturday, my colleague Eugenie Sage took me for a drive across the Canterbury Plains. I had seen from the air the landuse changes across the plains in recent times; a patchwork of crops and stock raising has been transformed… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Thousands of invalid votes likely after National refuses to change rules
    National’s refusal to make it easier to enrol and vote could result in tens of thousands of votes continuing to be ruled invalid at general elections, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says. The Justice and Electoral select committee today released… ...
    1 week ago
  • Social Development stats don’t add up
    Today’s figures released by the Ministry of Social Development show that despite a drop in the number of beneficiaries, fewer people are going into paid employment or study, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. ...
    1 week ago
  • Fonterra sticks with high pollution goal of increasing milk supply
    This week’s reported comments by Fonterra chair John Wilson that dairy “volumes were only going to keep increasing”  are troubling. Mr Wilson was supporting a potential renegotiation of the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Under the FTA dairy products such… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    1 week ago
  • Coleman’s ‘efficiencies’ strangling health
    New Zealand’s district health boards have made ‘efficiencies’ of more than $672 million over the past five years at the expense of everything from new drugs to elective surgery, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.  “This is a body blow for… ...
    1 week ago
  • Coleman’s ‘efficiencies’ strangling health
    New Zealand’s district health boards have made ‘efficiencies’ of more than $672 million over the past five years at the expense of everything from new drugs to elective surgery, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.  “This is a body blow for… ...
    1 week ago
  • Record debt to income ratio shows economy out of balance
    National’s complacent attitude to debt to income ratios rising above pre-financial crisis levels will be a concern to many New Zealanders and the Government must take action to rebalance the economy, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.   “The borrowing… ...
    1 week ago

Public service advertisements by The Standard

Current CO2 level in the atmosphere