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Environmental tax policies for net zero strategy and social welfare

There is an increasing drive among the governments in many countries to decarbonise their economies. Environmental tax policies are the most prominent among the tools that have been commonly used to address various environmental issues, including the harmful effect of carbon energy sources.

The theory of environmental taxation goes back by a hundred years, to the 1920 work of the British economist A.C. Pigou. A vast literature has been developed since then, with theoretical analysis and empirical evaluation of the economic and environmental effect of various environmental tax policies, including different forms of taxation of emission-generating activities and subsidisation of the development and use of the alternative energy technologies. While in the UK there are only four recognised environmental taxes, that is, taxes with explicit environmental objectives: Climate Change Levy, Carbon Price Support, Landfill Tax, and Aggregative Tax, there is also a range of other taxes, tax reliefs, and subsidies that have an effect on the environment. It is important to understand how these measures work and interact on the road to the net zero 2050 target set by the UK government.

Another significant issue is the welfare and distributional effect of environmental tax policies. A well-intended policy may disproportionally harm vulnerable households. For example, tax measures leading to higher gas prices may exacerbate fuel poverty of households unable to afford switching away from gas-powered heating. Conversely, a policy may unfairly benefit those who are better off while being paid for by all taxpayers. Thus, for example, government subsidies to the use of solar panels in residential properties may benefit primarily the affluent households who can afford them. Analysis and evaluation of the societal consequences of environmental tax policies is equally important.

The successful applicants will be encouraged to suggest their own research questions. They will be expected to use advanced econometric techniques with data obtained from available sources. A background in economic theory and coding skills for model simulations will be a bonus.


  • Bovenberg, A. L., Goulder, L. H. (2002). Environmental taxation and regulation. In: Alan J. Auerbach and Martin Feldstein (Eds.), Handbook of public economics. Vol. 3, pp. 1471-1545. Elsevier.
  • De Vito, L., Hayes, E. (2021) Journey to Net Zero: a rapid review of the challenges for the UK Industrial Sector. Air Quality Management Resource Centre, University of the West of England, Bristol.
  • Hodgkin, R., Rutter, J. (2021). Net zero and the tax system. Institute for Government.
  • House of Commons, Committee of Public Accounts (2021). Environmental tax measures. Fifty-Fifth Report of Session 2019–21.
  • Milne, J. A., Andersen, M.S. (2014). Handbook of Research on Environmental Taxation. Edward Elgar.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Nigar Hashimzade - I joined Brunel in December 2019. My research interests are in applied microeconomic theory. Recently, my research has focussed on various issues in taxation and tax administration. I am a Research Fellow at the Tax Administration Research Centre and a member of CESifo Research Network. Before Brunel I held positions at Durham, Reading, and Exeter. My previous academic career was in theoretical physics.

Peter Jelfs - I joined the Business School to help develop and improve links with government, accounting regulators and professional firms.  My research interests are in the field of taxation and I would be pleased to talk with potential PhD students and other researchers or collaborators in this area. Office hours Friday 1-2pm, please email me to arrange a meeting