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Perceived fairness and public acceptability of carbon pricing: a review of the literature


  • Sara Maestre-Andrés
  • Stefan Drews
  • Jeroen van den Bergh


While carbon pricing is widely seen as a crucial element of climate policy and has been implemented in many countries, it also has met with strong resistance. We provide a comprehensive overview of public perceptions of the fairness of carbon pricing and how these affect policy acceptability. To this end, we review evidence from empirical studies on how individuals judge personal, distributional and procedural aspects of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade. In addition, we examine preferences for particular redistributive and other uses of revenues generated by carbon pricing and their role in instrument acceptability. Our results indicate a high concern over distributional effects, particularly in relation to policy impacts on poor people, in turn reducing policy acceptability. In addition, people show little trust in the capacities of governments to put the revenues of carbon pricing to good use. Somewhat surprisingly, most studies do not indicate clear public preferences for using revenues to ensure fairer policy outcomes, notably by reducing its regressive effects. Instead, many people prefer using revenues for ‘environmental projects’ of various kinds. We end by providing recommendations for improving public acceptability of carbon pricing. One suggestion to increase policy acceptability is combining the redistribution of revenue to vulnerable groups with the funding for environmental projects, such as on renewable energy.Key policy insights If people perceive carbon pricing instruments as fair, this increases policy acceptability and support.People’s satisfaction with information provided by the government about the policy instrument increases acceptability.While people express high concern over uneven distribution of the policy burden, they often prefer using carbon pricing revenues for environmental projects instead of compensation for inequitable outcomes.Recent studies find that people’s preferences shift to using revenues for making policy fairer if they better understand the functioning of carbon pricing, notably that relatively high prices of CO2-intensive goods and services reduce their consumption.Combining the redistribution of revenue to support both vulnerable groups and environmental projects, such as on renewable energy, seems to most increase policy acceptability.

Suggested Citation

  • Sara Maestre-Andrés & Stefan Drews & Jeroen van den Bergh, 2019. "Perceived fairness and public acceptability of carbon pricing: a review of the literature," Climate Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(9), pages 1186-1204, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:tcpoxx:v:19:y:2019:i:9:p:1186-1204
    DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2019.1639490

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    Cited by:

    1. Douenne, Thomas & Fabre, Adrien, 2020. "French attitudes on climate change, carbon taxation and other climate policies," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C).
    2. Antonina Ivanova & Asim Zia & Paiman Ahmad & Mairon Bastos-Lima, 0. "Climate mitigation policies and actions: access and allocation issues," International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 0, pages 1-15.
    3. Shang, Tiancheng & Yang, Lan & Liu, Peihong & Shang, Kaiti & Zhang, Yan, 2020. "Financing mode of energy performance contracting projects with carbon emissions reduction potential and carbon emissions ratings," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 144(C).
    4. Florian Böser & Chiara Colesanti Senni, 2020. "Emission-based Interest Rates and the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 20/337, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
    5. David Klenert & Franziska Funke & Linus Mattauch & Brian O’Callaghan, 2020. "Five Lessons from COVID-19 for Advancing Climate Change Mitigation," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 76(4), pages 751-778, August.
    6. Sommer, Stephan & Mattauch, Linus & Pahle, Michael, 2020. "Supporting carbon taxes: The role of fairness," Ruhr Economic Papers 873, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    7. Antonina Ivanova & Asim Zia & Paiman Ahmad & Mairon Bastos-Lima, 2020. "Climate mitigation policies and actions: access and allocation issues," International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 20(2), pages 287-301, June.
    8. Ivan Savin & Stefan Drews & Sara Maestre-Andrés & Jeroen Bergh, 2020. "Public views on carbon taxation and its fairness: a computational-linguistics analysis," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 162(4), pages 2107-2138, October.
    9. Umit, Resul & Schaffer, Lena Maria, 2020. "Attitudes towards carbon taxes across Europe: The role of perceived uncertainty and self-interest," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 140(C).

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