What is a Carbon Tax?

What is a Carbon TaxA person who is interested in the environment, business, or finance may want to know, “What is a carbon tax?” Essentially, it is a fee imposed upon a business, individual, or organization in order to motivate that entity to decrease their consumption of fossil fuels. The imposition and collection of carbon taxes can be tricky, and different businesses, authorities and nations have different techniques for the levying, collection, and use of the fees.

What Carbon Taxes Are

Carbon taxes are fees imposed on burning fossil fuels. They are the only way for users of fossil fuels to pay for the damage that they are causing to the environment. By making people pay for the harm that they cause, it offers an incentive for people to change their habits. The goals of carbon taxes are to drastically reduce carbon emissions in order to slow global warming and climate change that are caused by human activities. Without financial motivation, many people will simply continue doing what they have been doing, which is burning fossil fuels at a rate that is unsustainable to the health of the Earth.

How Carbon Taxation Rates Are Determined

Some governments set the carbon taxation rate. They base it on the known quantity of carbon dioxide that different fossil fuels release when they are burned. The amount of carbon dioxide released from the burning of natural gas, propane, each variety of coal, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, and heating oil is a known and measurable quantity. The collecting authority simply multiplies the tax rate by the amount of fuel produced, then the extractor or processor of the fuel is responsible for paying the tax.

How Carbon Taxes Are Implemented

According to Carbon Tax Center, carbon taxes are usually collected upstream. This means that they are paid at the point of extraction of the fossil fuels from the earth. Existing tax collection mechanisms are typically used in order to levy and collect the fees. Fuel processors and suppliers are able to pass along the tax to their customers and to consumers as long as the market conditions allow. It is worth noting that carbon bound into products, such as plastic toys, is not taxed because it is not burned. Only carbon collected for burning as fuel is taxed.

How Carbon Taxes Are Used

The funds collected from taxes on carbon are typically used for research into alternative fuels and methods for curbing the emissions of greenhouse gases. Governmental authorities may issue grants to public or private entities for research and development. Although the United States does not implement a national tax on carbon emissions, some companies operating within the United States do tax their customers, and they use those funds for clean fuel development.


Understanding carbon taxes is an important part of recognizing the harm that the unfettered use of fossil fuels has caused on the environment. It is also key in the comprehension of how the burning of fossil fuels is affecting climate change and how those changes will persist long into the future. Being able to answer, “What is a carbon tax?” could facilitate a person’s choice of what they buy, where they buy it from, how much of it they buy, and how they generally live their life.

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