University of Gothenburg

Thomas Sterner

Thomas Sterner is professor of environmental economics, focused on the design of environmental policy instruments. Recent research focuses on issues of acceptability of policy instruments, their distributional effects and ways of making efficient instruments such as taxes more acceptable by refunding or using revenues constructively.

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Thomas Sterner is professor of environmental economics focused on the design of environmental policy instruments. On this subject, he has written a standard textbook that has appeared in several language editions (link to textbook). He teaches environmental economics at Chalmers. Recent research focuses on issues of acceptability of policy instruments, their distributional effects and ways of making efficient instruments such as taxes more acceptable by refunding or using revenues constructively.

Although he still works on the economic theory of policy design and such overarching issues as fiscal reform, corporate environmental responsibility, circular economy, green growth, more and more attention is turned to actual interdisciplinary, empirical work. Currently he works on a range of issues from fishing and marine management to green bonds and green finance, radiation protection, biodiversity and ecosystem services, chemicals management, ambient air, transport and industrial applications. Still the largest focus is policy instruments to deal with climate change and other large scale environmental problems.

During the last two decades he has built up the Environmental Economics Unit (EEU) at the University of Gothenburg, with a staff of about twenty researchers. For about two decades they gave a unique PhD program (with a large participation of graduate students from developing countries financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida). After graduating most of the PhDs join in the Environment for Development initiative (EfD) which does policy relevant research in developing countries. With Gunnar Köhlin, Thomas founded the Environment for Development Initiative. 

Our research group is thus closely connected to a number of others with which we collaborate closely.At the University of Gothenburg: BECC on  the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services, FRAM on chemicals, CECAR, the Centre for Collective Action Research (see also our YouTube channel) and the Mistra Carbon Exit research programme. We are also closely linked to the Environmental Economics and Policy Group of the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (GMV). Moreover, we have close research and teaching links to Physical Resource Theory at Chalmers.

Recent highlights:

2021 Knighted as Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur.

Boards

Honors & Prizes

  • Honorary member of the French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (FAERE), appointed  2021
  • Chevalier (Knight) in the French Légion d’Honneur, appointed 2020
  • Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, University Collage Dublin 2019
  • Pro Studio et Scientia Award, University of Gothenburg, October 2019
  • EAERE Fellow 2019
  • Elected Guest Professor at the Collège de France 2015-16
  • Honorary Guest professor University of Cape Town
  • University Fellow Resources for the Future, USA.
  • Member of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences
  • Beijer Fellow at the Beijer Institute of the Swedish Royal Academy, 2007-
  • Environmental Fiscal Reformer of the Year Award 2014, Green Budget Europe
  • Myrdal Prize 2008

Publications

Selected publications

  • Sterner, T., Ewald, J., Sterner, E. ​​​​​​(2023. Economists and the Climate. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 102158. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socec.2023.102158 
  • Silvestro, D., Goria, S., Antonelli, A., & Sterner, T. (2022). Improving biodiversity protection through artificial intelligence. Nature Sustainability. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00851-6
  • Hänsel, M., Drupp, M. A., Johansson, D. J. A., Nesje, F., Azar, C., Freeman, M. C., Groom, B. & Sterner, T. (2020) Climate economics support for the UN climate targets.  Nature Climate Change. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0833-x
  • Carlsson, F., Kataria, M., Krupnick, A., Lampi, E., Löfgren, Å., Qin, P., Sterner, T., & Yang, X. (2021). The climate decade: Changing attitudes on three continents. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 102426. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeem.2021.102426
  • Refunding Emission Payments: Output-Based versus Expenditure-Based Refunding
    Hagem, C., Hoel, M., & Sterner, T.
    Environmental and Resource Economics, 1-27, 2020.
    Refunding a useful sidekick to environmental taxation?
    Nowadays there is much resistance to environmental taxation (like carbon taxes). Some of this is based on a desire not to give money to the state because of practical, distributional, pragmatic or ideological reasons. One potential solution is to earmark or refund the tax revenues. Scandinavia has some interesting schemes for industrial pollutants (NOx) that we have analyzed.
    This paper systematically analyses different kinds of tax refunding to industries. Refunding in proportion to output (which Sweden has for NOx) or in proportion to Abatement investments – which Norway has.
    The former makes a very high pollution tax politically feasible. The latter actually makes a really low pollution tax very effective by using refunds to subsidize abatement. In effect it becomes a combined tax and subsidy. (If you are wondering which is better --- it turns out to be a bit complex so read the paper..…)
  • Mukanjari, S., Sterner, T. (2020). Charting a “Green Path” for Recovery from COVID-19. Environmental and Resource Economics. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-020-00479-0

Research in progress

 

The pandemic has implied much suffering, but it has also been a time for concentration and many publications. Most of Thomas’ current work is focused on policy design. Much of it focuses on climate, where he has been exploring both issues of refunding of emissions payments and other issues related to the income distribution effects of policy and the perceived fairness effects.

Another area of work is related to the finance sector and effects of events, such as the Paris agreement or US elections on financial markets for fossil and renewable stock.  

Finally, he also works in a number of other sectors, such as on biodiversity and on decontamination after major nuclear reactors.

Books

First of all my major textbook on the design of environmental policy:

In this book I set out to study the often repeated allegation that gasoline taxes are a burden to the poor. It turns out to be true only in special circumstances. Generally, in most countries, gasoline taxes are actually neutral or progressive:

Presentations, speeches & lectures

  1. Presenter at the Economics Conference: Creating Pathways towards a Green Economy, about “Europe’s Green Deal after the Coronavirus”, organized by the Bank of Lithuania. 2021-10-21.

  2. Presenter at a conference on “Growth and Decarbonation about emissions in different sectors and the possibility of sustainable growth in developing countries”, organized by Électricité de France (EDF). 2021-10-18.

  3. Participated in a panel discussion in the webinar: Population and Environmental Change, organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. 2021-09-24.

  4. Panelist in webinar “Hur ska Europa återhämta sig från Corona?” (How is Europe going to recover from Corona?), together with Christian Danielsson, Anna Wetter Ryde and moderated by Karin Klingenstierna. Hosted by the Gothenburg City Library and Europa Direkt Gothenburg Region. 2021-02-05.

  5. Presentation for Sida. “Back to Paris” 2021-01-20.

  6. Presentation “Understanding the political economy of carbon taxes” at the FSR Climate Annual Conference – Session on Environmental Taxation, with Jens Ewald and Erik Sterner. 2020-11-27.

  7. Presentation “The acceptability of carbon taxes” at CeCar, with discussant Sverker Carlsson Jagers. 2020-11-26.

  8. Presentation “The climate crisis is solvable, but contains difficult elements” at Climate themed webbinarium hosted by CSR Västsverige (CSR West Sweden). 2020-11-26.

  9. Presenter of research proposal “Attitudes toward climate policy” at ACT! Sustainable Research Conference, organized by the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (GMV), chaired by Olof Johansson-Stenman. 2020-11-18.

  10. “Zum Klimaökonomie” Guest lecture for Elisabet Gsottbauer at the Department of Economics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. 2020-11-17.

  11. Presentation of “Attitudes toward Carbon Taxes” pilot study at "UCSD Environmental Economics Seminar Series", cosponsored by the Department of Economics and the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego, USA. 2020-11-16.

  12. Presentation of “Policies for the climate crisis: Analysis of necessary policies with particular focus on transports” at the Symposium on Transport Policies against Climate Change, hosted by University of Barcelona. 2020-11-10.

  13. Presenter of seminar “2 Degrees of Difference – A Discussion of Global Climate Goals” on the updates to the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model and its implications for achieving global climate target, at the EDF. 2020-09-28.

  14. Organizer and chair of policy session “Carbon Prizing for Sustainable Development” together with Jan Steckel, MCC Berlin, at the EAERE 25th annual conference in Berlin. 2020-07-01.

  15. Presentation of paper “The Economics Nobel Prize and the UN climate targets: From Clash to Consistency” in session Climate and economy: consistent targets and modelling practices the EAERE 25th annual conference in Berlin. Chaired by Alena Miftakhova, ETH Zurich. 2020-06-29.

  16. Panelist in policy session “The European Green Deal: prospects and challenges for the future”, at the EAERE 25th annual conference in Berlin. Chaired by Simone Borghesi at the European University Institute. 2020-06-26.

  17. Panelist in policy session “Policy design to address global methane emissions from the oil and gas sector”, at the EAERE 25th annual conference in Berlin. The 2020 conference was held online due to the corona virus outbreak. Chaired by Kristina Mohlin at the Environmental Defense Fund. 2020-06-24.

  18. “Some like it hot: Optimal abatement of Climate change. Nordhaus vs Paris Agreement.”, webinar at Exeter LEEPout, a monthly seminar series hosted by The Land, Environment, Economics, and Policy Institute at the University of Exeter. 2020-06-15.

  19. Optimal nivå på åtgärder för att hindra smittspridning, presentation at webinar on the Corona crisis arranged by Professor Kristian Bolin, Gothenburg. 2020-05-13.

In media

  1. Klimatutredaren Hasslers förslag: ”Omformulera klimatmålen” (Climate investigator Hasslers’s proposal: ”Reformulate the climate goals”). Panel member on the Swedish Radio’s science department The Globe. 2023-10-19.

  2. "Fossila subventioner på nya rekordnivåer – trots att de ska fasas ut." (Fossil subsidies at new record levels – even though ther are to be phased out). Interview by Jannike Kihlberg in Dagens Nyheter. 2023-09-14.
  3. Skicka inte pengar till Putin genom sänkt bensin- och dieselskatt” (Don’t send money to Putin through a lowered fuel tax). Debate article with L. Calmfors and Å. Löfgren in Dagens Industri. 2022-03-25.
  4. Bromsa klimatkrisen genom förnybar el” (Halt the climate crisis through renewable energy). Debate article in Norran, with Anders Wijkman, Lars J Nilsson, Johan Rockström, Lars Zetterberg and Filip Johnsson. 2021-11-02.
  5. Nu krävs det mod och vilja i politiken” (It now requires courage and will power in the politics). Debate article in Folkbladet, with Johan Rockström and Lars Zetterberg (with more signatures). 2021-10-31.
  6. FN ser inte klimatmål som realistiska längre” (UN does not see the climate goals as realistic anymore). Interview by Kinga Sandén for Svenska Dagbladet. 2021-10-26.
  7. Johansson-Stenman, O., & Sterner, T. (2021). ”Mer fokus på miljö, fördelning och internationellt samarbete behövs i skattereformen(More focus on the environment, distribution and international cooperation is needed the tax reform). Ekonomisk debatt, 3/2021 (årgång 49).

  8. Interviewed for TRTWorld "US President Joe Biden reiterates support for climate goals". 2021-04-22.

  9. Interviewed in ”Forskare: EU:s klimatlag ett steg i rätt riktning” (Researchers: The EU climate law, a step in the right direction) for the University of Gothenburg. 2021-04-21.

  10. Interview for TV4’s Kalla Fakta ”Bankens smutsiga hemlighet” (The bank’s dirty secret). 2021-02-01.
  11.  ”Ökat stöd för kraftfull klimatpolitik” (Increased support for powerful climate policy) debate article in Svenska Dagbladet, with Fredrik Carlsson, Mitesh Kataria, Elina Lampi and Åsa Löfgren. 2021-01-19.
  12.  “Policy Design for the Anthropocene” with Åsa Löfgren, Sverker Carlsson Jagers and Will Steffen , After the Paper blog post on article in Nature Sustainability. Nature Sustainability Community. 2020-11-17.
  13.  ”Kan corona ge draghjälp åt klimatomställningen?” interview in Radio Sweden on the opportunity for a green re-start of the economy with Corona stimulus money. 2020-10-16.
  14.  "Miljöekonom: Styr om tillväxten för klimatet" interview in Svenska Dagbladet about climate economics and growth. 2020-10-11.
  15.  Interview on carbon pricing with Le Monde Journalist Marjorie Cessac for Climatico. 2020-10-06.
  16.  Forskare i ny studie: ”Parisavtalet ekonomiskt optimalt”, article in Dagens Industri about the new article Climate economics support for the UN climate target. 2020-07-13.
  17.  “Hårdare klimatpolitik bäst för ekonomin”, interview about the Nature climate change article, Aftonbladet. 2020-07-13.
  18.  ”Tuffa klimatåtgärder är bra för ekonomin”, interview and article about the Natur Climate Change article Climate economics support for the UN climate target, Göteborgs Posten. 2020-07-13.
  19.  “Nobelpristagare räknade fel, enligt ny forskning”, interview in Svenska Dagbladet about the Natur Climate Change article Climate economics support for the UN climate targets. 2020-07-13

Policy

This section contains interesting reports (not written by me) that I recommend on the current state of our climate, environmental economics, emissions, natural resources and much more.

  • “We talk and talk about taxing carbon. Meanwhile lobbyists secure enormous subsidies instead.” IMF Working paper
  • Carbon markets around the world are continuing to expand and gather momentum, according to a series of case studies released by IETA, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and CDC Climat Research today, despite diverse challenges. The World's Carbon Markets
  • Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace has released a retrospective report of transaction activity on the global voluntary carbon markets over the last decade, up to and including information on 2014 transactions. The report finds that companies, governments, and individuals voluntarily spent just under $4.5 billion to transact nearly one billion carbon offsets from projects that halt deforestation, install renewable energy, promote energy efficiency, distribute cleaner-burning cookstoves, and more. Ahead of the Curve: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2015.
     

Lectures/videos

Below follows a number of interviews and lectures presented by Thomas Sterner related to current topics in environmental economics.

US President Joe Biden reiterates support for climate goals | Money Talks

Comment by Thomas Sterner after 1 min.

Navigate to video: US President Joe Biden reiterates support for climate goals | Money Talks
Video (07:29)
US President Joe Biden reiterates support for climate goals | Money Talks

Two Degrees of Difference

Thomas Sterner discusses global climate goals at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Navigate to video: 2 Degrees of Difference - A Discussion of Global Climate Goals
Video (1:00:21)
2 Degrees of Difference - A Discussion of Global Climate Goals

#MeetTopEnvEcon

Ingmat Schumacher meets Thomas Sterner for an interview. (November 2018).

Navigate to video: #MeetTopEnvEcon - Thomas Sterner
Video (12:09)
#MeetTopEnvEcon - Thomas Sterner

 


The International Science Festival Gothenburg

Karin Gyllenklev meets Thomas Sterner at Vetenskapsfestivalen (Gothenburg, 2018-09-14)

Navigate to video: 72. THOMAS STERNER
Video (4:39)
72. THOMAS STERNER

 


Fossil free – but how?

Thomas Sterner plenary speech at Fossilfritt Sverige (Stockholm, 2018-09-06).

 


The Risk of Climate Change

Thomas Sterner discuss the most efficient tools to mitigate those risks from the perspective of policymakers, corporates and the (re)insurance industry (SCOR, 2018-07-11).

Navigate to video: The Risk of Climate Change
Video (21:35)
The Risk of Climate Change

Hur kan politiken, tekniken och individen bidra till en smart klimatpolitik?

Thomas Sterner participates in a debate with Isabella Lövin, Minister for Climate and Vice Prime minister in Sweden. (Handelshögskolan Göteborg, 2018-01-31

Navigate to video: Paneldebatt: Hur kan politiken, tekniken och individen bidra till en smart klimatpolitik?
Video (16:36)
Paneldebatt: Hur kan politiken, tekniken och individen bidra till en smart klimatpolitik?

 



Did Paris Solve the Climate Problem?

In a plenary talk at 13th Annual Conference on Economic Growth and Development Thomas Sterner asks “Did Paris Solve the Climate Problem?” (Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, 2017-12-20).

Navigate to video: Plenary Talk by Thomas Sterner 20th Dec, 2017, ISI Delhi
Video (1:13:32)
Plenary Talk by Thomas Sterner 20th Dec, 2017, ISI Delhi

 


Åtgärder för att begränsa klimatförändringar - IPCC:s tredje delrapport

At this seminar you will hear Thomas Sterner present the results of the Third Interim Report of the IPCC, which deals with measures to limit climate change. (Seminar at the University of Gothenburg, 2015-03-23)

Navigate to video: Thomas Sterner om IPCC:s tredje delrapport -- åtgärder för klimatförändringar
Video (2:03:10)
Thomas Sterner om IPCC:s tredje delrapport -- åtgärder för klimatförändringar

 


Explaining Ramsey

Thomas Sterner's web lecture on the Ramsey Rule: What is discounting and how much do we care about the future?

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Video (15:53)
Explaining Ramsey

 


Pathways to Paris

In this lecture you will hear Thomas Sterner talk about the climate negotiations leading up to Paris. (Lecture recorded in May 2015).

Navigate to video: Pathway to Paris
Video (22:48)
Pathway to Paris

 


The Menu of Environmental Policy Instruments

Thomas Sterner discusses the policies available to mitigate environmental damages at his inaugural lecture at Collège de France. More lectures with Thomas Sterner at Collège de France can be found here(Lecture recorded in October 2015).

Navigate to video: The Menu of Environmental Policy Instruments
Video (1:08:28)
The Menu of Environmental Policy Instruments