A Practical Guide to the Economics of Carbon Pricing

27 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2016

See all articles by Ross McKitrick

Ross McKitrick

University of Guelph - Department of Economics

Date Written: September 14, 2016


Canadian economists, politicians and even environmentalists are lining up enthusiastically behind pricing carbon as the solution to controlling greenhouse gas emissions in this country. Pricing carbon (or, more accurately, pricing carbon dioxide) is not just a fashionable policy approach; it is the most efficient way we have to ration emissions, as it allows emitters — businesses and consumers — to make the most rational decisions about where it makes economic sense to curtail carbon and where it does not. Painfully costly command-and-control reductions make little sense in Canada, given our marginal contribution to global emissions. When practiced globally, a carbon price deals with Canadian emitters as fairly as it does others.

However, a beneficial outcome is not guaranteed: certain rules must be observed in order for carbon pricing to have its intended effect of achieving the optimal balance between emission reduction and economic growth. First and foremost, carbon pricing only works in the absence of any other emission regulations. If pricing is layered on top of an emission-regulating regime already in place (such as emission caps or feed-in-tariff programs), it will not only fail to produce the desired effects in terms of emission rationing, it will have distortionary effects that cause disproportionate damage in the economy. Carbon taxes are meant to replace all other climate-related regulation, while the revenue from the taxes should not be funnelled into substitute goods, like renewable power (pricing lets the market decide which of those substitutes are worth funding) but returned directly to taxpayers.

Keywords: Carbon Pricing, Carbon Tax, Canadian Emitters

Suggested Citation

McKitrick, Ross, A Practical Guide to the Economics of Carbon Pricing (September 14, 2016). SPP Research Papers, Vol. 9, Iss. 28, September 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2844481

Ross McKitrick (Contact Author)

University of Guelph - Department of Economics ( email )

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Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1
519-824-4120 ext 53051 (Phone)
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HOME PAGE: http://www.rossmckitrick.com/

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