Adverse Selection as a Policy Instrument: Unraveling Climate Change

104 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2022 Last revised: 14 Apr 2023

See all articles by Steve Cicala

Steve Cicala

Tufts University

David Hémous

University of Zürich; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Morten Olsen

University of Copenhagen

Date Written: July 2022


This paper applies principles of adverse selection to overcome obstacles that prevent the implementation of Pigouvian policies to internalize externalities. Focusing on negative externalities from production (such as pollution), we consider settings in which aggregate emissions are known, but individual contributions are unobserved by the government. We evaluate a policy that gives firms the option to pay a tax on their voluntarily and verifiably disclosed emissions, or pay an output tax based on the average rate of emissions among the undisclosed firms. The certification of relatively clean firms raises the output-based tax, setting off a process of unraveling in favor of disclosure. We derive sufficient statistics formulas to calculate the welfare of such a program relative to mandatory output or emissions taxes. We find that the voluntary certification mechanism would deliver significant gains over output-based taxation in two empirical applications: methane emissions from oil and gas fields, and carbon emissions from imported steel.

Suggested Citation

Cicala, Steve and Hemous, David and Olsen, Morten, Adverse Selection as a Policy Instrument: Unraveling Climate Change (July 2022). NBER Working Paper No. w30283, Available at SSRN:

Steve Cicala (Contact Author)

Tufts University ( email )

Medford, MA 02155
United States

David Hemous

University of Zürich ( email )


Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

Morten Olsen

University of Copenhagen ( email )


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