Assessing the authenticity of national carbon prices: A comparison of 31 countries

Adam Finch, Jeroen van den Bergh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Many countries have carbon pricing in place, in the form of a tax and/or market. Generally, this involves low price rates, incomplete emissions coverage, and price reductions for particular sectors. This raises the question whether the label “carbon price” – in the environmental-economics textbook sense – really applies. To answer it, we assess the authenticity of 31 national carbon prices, calculating average carbon prices and their gap with advertised prices, at both national and sector levels. The results indicate a poor level of authenticity. This means that the carbon prices published by sources such as the World Bank provide a misleading representation of the actual national policy pressure on emissions. Countries show considerable differences regarding the average carbon price level and the gap with advertised prices. Moreover, there is not a one-to-one relationship between advertised and average carbon prices, suggesting the former are not a good basis for international comparison of policy effectiveness. Across countries, the mean carbon price equals €7.90/ton of CO2 while the mean price gap is 57.7%. Most noticeably, the highest advertised price for Sweden should be interpreted with care as it goes along with a price gap of almost €100 to the average price. In addition, Switzerland and Finland show relatively high price gaps. To illustrate the relevance and non-triviality of our indicators, note that Sweden occupies a 3rd position in terms of average carbon price (after Norway and Switzerland), 27th in terms of price gap, and 16th in terms of effective rate (i.e. sum of implicit and explicit carbon prices). We further find that implicit carbon prices dominate explicit ones for most countries, notably in road transport, whereas the reverse holds for industrial and electricity sectors. Combining our findings with recent empirical evidence for carbon-pricing effectiveness highlights the potential of the instrument to combat climate change, provided implementation is improved and internationally harmonized. Shifting the attention from advertised to average carbon prices might help in this regard.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102525
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • Average carbon price
  • Carbon tax
  • Climate policy
  • Emissions trading
  • Energy prices


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