Ecological fiscal transfers (EFT) transfer public revenue between governments within a country based on ecological indicators. EFT can compensate subnational governments for the costs of conserving ecosystems and in principle can incentivize greater ecological conservation. We review established EFT in Brazil, Portugal, France, China and India, and emerging or proposed EFT in ten more countries. We analyse common themes related to EFT emergence, design and effects. EFT have grown rapidly from US$0.35 billion yr−1 in 2007 to US$23 billion yr−1 in 2020. We discuss the scope of opportunity to expand EFT to other countries by ‘greening’ intergovernmental fiscal transfers.