Fuel taxes: An important instrument for climate policy

Peer Reviewed
1 January 2007

This article shows that fuel taxes serve a very important role for the environment and that we risk a backlash of increased emissions if they are abolished.


Fuel taxes have restrained growth in fuel demand and associated carbon emissions. Although fuel demand is large and growing, our analysis shows that it would have been much higher in the absence of domestic fuel taxes. People often assert that fuel demand is inelastic but there is strong research evidence showing the opposite. The price elasticity is in fact quite high but only in the long-run: in the short run it may be quite inelastic which has important implications for policy makers. Had Europe not followed a policy of high fuel taxation but had low US taxes, then fuel demand would have been twice as large. Hypothetical transport demand in the whole OECD area is calculated for various tax scenarios and the results show that fuel taxes are the single most powerful climate policy instrument implemented to date—yet this fact is not usually given due attention in the debate.

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Publication | 1 June 2007