Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 43–58 | Cite as

Energy Conservation More Effective With Rebound Policy

  • Jeroen C. J. M. van den BerghEmail author
Open Access


This article sketches the problem of indirect energy use effects, also known as rebound, of energy conservation. There is widespread support for energy conservation, especially when it is voluntary, as this seems a cheap way to realize environmental and energy-climate goals. However, this overlooks the phenomenon of rebound. The topic of energy rebound has mainly attracted attention from energy analysts, but has been surprisingly neglected in environmental economics, even though economists generally are concerned with indirect or economy-wide impacts of technical change and policies. This paper presents definitions and interpretations of energy and environmental rebound, as well as four fundamental reasons for the existence of the rebound phenomenon. It further offers the most complete list of rebound pathways or mechanisms available in the literature. In addition, it discusses empirical estimates of rebound and addresses the implications of uncertainties and difficulties in assessing rebound. Suggestions are offered for strategies and public policies to contain rebound. It is advised that rebound evaluation is an essential part of environmental policy and project assessments. As opposed to earlier studies, this paper stresses the relevance of the distinction between energy conservation resulting from autonomous demand changes and from efficiency improvements in technology/equipment. In addition, it argues that rebound is especially relevant for developing countries.


Backfire Developing countries Jevons’ paradox Rebound mechanisms Relieving limits Tradable permits 

JEL Classifications

Q43 Q48 Q54 Q55 Q58 



This paper is a revised version of a contribution to a study on energy efficiency in developing countries commissioned by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna. I am grateful for comments by, and discussions with, Robert Ayres, Olga Memedovic, John Nyboer, Joachim Schleich, Steve Sorrell and Ernst Worrell. Three anonymous reviewers provided useful comments.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ICREABarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Economics and Economic History, & Institute for Environmental Science and TechnologyUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyolaSpain
  3. 3.Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, & Institute for Environmental StudiesVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Fellow of Tinbergen InstituteAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Fellow of NAKETilburgThe Netherlands

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