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Thomas Sterner


Environmental Economics

Address: P.O. Box 640, SE 405 30 Gothenburg
Visiting address: Vasagatan 1, House E
Room: E-609
Tel: 0046 (0) 31-786 1377
Email: thomas.sterner@economics.gu.se

CVThomas Sterner is professor of environmental economics. For the academic year 2015-2016 he has been elected as a visiting professor at the Collège de France. In 2012-2013 he was on sabbatical leave from Gothenburg university and worked as Chief Economist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). His main areas of work at the EDF were, among other things, related to instrument design for climate policy and catch shares in fisheries.

During the last two decades he has built up the Environmental Economics Unit (EEU) at the University of Gothenburg, with a staff of about a dozen PhDs and another dozen graduate students. The unit gives a unique PhD program (with a large participation of graduate students from developing countries financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida), masters and undergraduate programs as well as a large number of other research and teaching activities within the area of environmental economics.

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.

Lecture: The Menu of Environmental Policy Instruments

Watch Thomas Sterner's inaugural lecture at Collège de France (English interpretation, 2015-10-22)

Comment article in Nature: Push renewables to spur carbon pricing

Make wind and solar power even cheaper by opening up access to the electricity grid and ending fossil-fuel subsidies. Read the comment in Nature, written by Thomas Sterner together with colleagues Gernot Wagner (EDF), Tomas Kåberger (Chalmers), Susanna Olai (GU), Katherine Rittenhouse (EDF) and Michael Oppenheimer (Princeton).

Putting a price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to curb emissions must be the centrepiece of any comprehensive climate-change policy. We know it works: pricing carbon creates broad incentives to cut emissions. Yet the current price of carbon remains much too low relative to the hidden environmental, health and societal costs of burning a tonne of coal or a barrel of oil. The global average price is below zero, once half a trillion dollars of fossil-fuel subsidies are factored in.

The current inadequacy of carbon pricing stems from a catch-22. Policymakers are more likely to price carbon appropriately if it is cheaper to move onto a low-carbon path. But reducing the cost of renewable energies requires investment, and thus a carbon price.

In our view, the best hope of ending this logjam rests with tuning policies to drive down the cost of renewable power sources even further and faster than in the past five years. The cost of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) modules has fallen by 99% since 1978 and by 80% since 2008; installation costs for wind power have also dropped, and solar and wind capacity has grown […]. Prices will continue to fall, but — without more help — the decrease will not be fast enough to make a dent in the climate problem.

Book: Fuel Taxes and the Poor

Thomas Sterner is the editor of the book Fuel Taxes and the Poor, The Distributional Effects of Gasoline Taxation and Their Implications for Climate Policy, authored by 35 renowned researchers. Reporting on examples of over two dozen countries this book challenges the conventional wisdom that petrol taxation, an important and much-debated instrument of climate policy, has a disproportionately detrimental effect on poor people. This book provides strong arguments for the proponents of environmental taxation. It has immediate policy implications at the intersection of multiple subject areas, including transport, environmental regulation, development studies, and climate change. Published Dec 2011 by RFF Press with Environment for Development initiative. 


Selected recent speeches

How policy relevant are climate-economic and macroeconomic models? Panel discussant at Nordic Conference at Rosenbad Conference Center in Stockholm (2016-05-25)

Tax reform in Sweden viewed from the outside Presentation at conference organized by Fores and LO at the Swedish Parliament (2016-05-19)

Equity Impacts of Carbon Pricing and Subsidy Removal Panel discussant at OECD side-event at the the COP 21 (2015-12-08)

Paris 2015 and Beyond, Cooling the Climate Debate Symposium at Collége de France (2015-10-28)

The Menu of Environmental Policy Instruments Inaugural lecture at Collège de France (2015-10-22)

Selected recent research

Nature comment on the higher costs of climate change

Sterner, T. 2015. Higher costs of climate change. Nature (21 October 2015). DOI:10.1038/nature15643

Beyond IPCC, Research for Paris 2015 and Beyond

Sterner, T. 2015. Beyond IPCC, Research for Paris 2015 and Beyond. Environmental and Resource Economics, 62(2): 207-215.

Nature comment on renewables and carbon pricing

Wagner, G., Kåberger, T., Olai, S., Oppenheimer, M., Rittenhouse., and Sterner, T. Energy Policy: Push renewables to spur carbon pricing. Nature 525: 27-29.

Discounting and relative consumption

Johansson-Stenman, O., and Sterner, T. 2015. Discounting and Relative Consumption. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. 71: 19-33.

Nature Climate Change article on Linking

Green, J., T Sterner and G Wagner, (2014) "A balance of 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' in linking climate policies", Nature Climate Change Vol 4, pp 1064-1067.

Nature comment on the Social Cost of Carbon 

R L Revesz, P H Howard, K Arrow, L H Goulder, R E Kopp, M A Livermore, M Oppenheimer & T Sterner “Global warming: Improve economic models of climate change”, Nature 508, 173–175 (10 April 2014).

Science article on long run discounting

Arrow,K., M L. Cropper, C Gollier, B Groom, G M. Heal, R G. Newell, W D. Nordhaus, R S. Pindyck, W A. Pizer, P Portney, T Sterner, R Tol and M,L. Weitzman “Determining Benefits and Costs for Future Generations“, Science July 26 2013.

See more at my Google Scholar profile.

Policy design

We are a group of researchers whose main research focus is on the actual design of policy instruments. Read more about our work here.

See also my EfD Webpage.









Click here to read the review of Environmental Regulation and Public Disclosure in the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies

My books and other resources can be found at the external website Routledge Sustainability Hub


The research project COMMONS - Human Cooperation to Manage Natural Resources include research teams at Indiana University, University of Gothenburg, and Resources for the Future. Read more about our four research teams here

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