October 2021

IZA DP No. 14792: Education Quality, Green Technology, and the Economic Impact of Carbon Pricing

Kevin Macdonald, Harry A. Patrinos

Carbon pricing is increasingly used by governments to reduce emissions. The effect of carbon pricing on economic outcomes as well as mitigating factors has been studied extensively since the early 1990s. One mitigating factor that has received less attention is education quality. If technological change that reduces the reliance of production on emissions is skill-biased, then carbon pricing may increase the skill premium of earnings and subsequent wage inequality; however, a more elastic skill supply through better education quality may mitigate adverse economic outcomes, including wage inequality, and enhance the effect of carbon pricing on technological change and subsequently emissions. A general equilibrium, overlapping-generations model is proposed, with endogenous skill investment in which the average skill level of the workforce can affect the need for emissions in an aggregate production function. This study uses data on industrial emissions linked to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies dataset for European Union countries. The findings show that, within countries, cognitive skills are positively associated with employment in industries that rely less on emissions for production and in industries that, over time, have been able to reduce their reliance on emissions for production. In the estimated general equilibrium model, higher cognitive skills reduce an economy's reliance on emissions for production. Having higher quality education—defined as the level of cognitive skills attained by workers per unit of cost—increases the elasticity of skill supply and, as a result, mitigates a carbon tax's economic costs including output loss and wage inequity, and enhances its effect on emissions reduction. The implication is that investments in education quality are needed for better enabling green technological innovation and adaptation and reducing inequality that results from carbon pricing.