Sterner, Thomas

Thomas Sterner is a professor of environmental economics in Gothenburg and a university fellow at RFF, in 2012-2013 he was on sabbatical leave from Gothenburg and worked as Chief Economist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). His main areas of work at the EDF were on instrument design for climate policy, catch shares in fisheries and other areas.

Thomas Sterner initiated the environmental economics unit in Gothenburg and participated in its build-up since 1990. He has written a large number of books and articles on different applications ranging from energy and climate, through natural resource management such as fisheries to issues relating to industrial and transport pollution. His work covers institutions in different kinds of economies, market, planned and developing. Thomas Sterner teaches PhD and undergraduate courses in environmental and resource economics and is also active in a number of boards and networks such as CEEPA, LACEEP, SANDEE, and AERC.

Link to personal webpage
Link to personal page at EEU
Link to page at Sustainable Future Policy Lab
Link to page at FAERE (French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists)

Expertise/Research area:

  • Environmental Economics
  • Resource Economics
  • Development Economics

Recent media appearance: 
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.

Highlighted article: Refunding Emission Payments: Output-Based versus Expenditure-Based Refunding”

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, distritutional, 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..…)

Hagem, C., Hoel, M., & Sterner, T. (2020). “Refunding Emission Payments: Output-Based versus Expenditure-Based Refunding”Environmental and Resource Economics, 1-27.


Research interest

Thomas Sterner's main research interests lie in the design of policy instruments. Within this broad area he has focused on a number of applications:

Resource Management in Developing Countries.
This is the main area of work for most of the students at EEU. Researchers at the unit has led for instance to work on the management of game parks and fishing in Lake Victoria. This work is mainly funded by Sida.

Economics of Energy Use and Climate Change 
Thomas has earlier done a considerable amount of work on the elasticities of fuel demand. More recently he has looked at the efficiency of various other policy instruments in the area of transport, industry and energy. Some of this work has been done together with Christian Azar and colleagues at the dept of Physical Resource Theory. Currently, Thomas is doing work on linking of permit schemes and on various aspects of discounting. 
This work is financed by FORMAS and MISTRA (the INDIGO programs).

Economics of Fisheries & Coastal Zone Management 
Within a number of different ecological and geographic contexts, Thomas has worked on the design of different policy instruments to deal with problems related to overfishing, design of catch shares and the importance of genetic diversity among cod.

Comparative Efficiency of Economic Policy Instruments in various Sectors
This research focuses on empirical comparisons of the efficiency of policy instruments used in various sectors or countries. Examples include refunded emission payments for the reduction of NOx from industrial combustion.

People | 23 October 2007