Green taxes in a post-Paris world: are millions of nays inevitable?

Produced as part of the Evaluating the performance of climate policies CCCEP research programme theme

Turning greenhouse gas emissions pledges into domestic policies is the next challenge for governments. We address the question of the acceptability of cost-effective climate policy in a real-voting setting. First, we analyze voting behavior in a large ballot on energy taxes, rejected in Switzerland in 2015 by more than 2 million people. Energy taxes were aimed at completely replacing the current value-added tax. We examine the determinants of voting and find that distributional and competitiveness concerns reduced the acceptability of energy taxes, along with the perception of ineffectiveness. Most people would have preferred tax revenues to be allocated for environmental purposes. Second, at the same time of the ballot, we tested the acceptability of alternative designs of a carbon tax with a choice experiment survey on a representative sample of the Swiss population. Survey respondents are informed about environmental, distributional and competitiveness effects of each carbon tax design. These impacts are estimated with a computable general equilibrium model. This original setting generates a series of novel results. Providing information on the expected environmental effectiveness of carbon taxes reduces the demand for environmental earmarking. Making distributional effects salient generates an important demand for progressive designs, e.g. social cushioning or recycling via lump-sum transfers. The case of lump-sum recycling is particularly striking: it is sufficient to show its desirable distributional properties to make it one of the most preferred designs, which corresponds to a completely novel result in the literature. We show that providing proper information on the functioning of environmental taxes can close both the gap between acceptability ex ante and ex post and the gap between economists’ prescriptions and the preferences of the general public.