On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aiming to tackle the climate crisis. The order included capturing the total cost of greenhouse gas emissions by evaluating the social cost of carbon, or SCC.
Nearly a month after that order, a team of international researchers, including Gernot Wagner, a climate economist in the department of environmental studies at New York University, and David Anthoff, an assistant professor of energy and resources at UC Berkeley, published a set of eight recommendations for recalculating the SCC in the journal Nature. Deemed the “world’s most important number that nobody’s heard of” by Wagner, the SCC is an estimation of the future cost of each ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
“When you emit one ton of CO2 — and of course we emit billions of tons every year — every one of these tons has damages associated with it,” Wagner said. “Climate change is real. It causes, it has costs and the SCC, as defined in this case, is the dollar and cents in today’s dollars that those climate damages will cost.”
During the Trump administration, the value of the SCC was reduced to $1-7 per ton, according to Wagner. Recalculating the SCC is an attempt to better capture the future risks in light of new information regarding damages related to climate change.
The SCC has local implications as well. According to an email statement from Chief Sustainability and Carbon Solutions Officer Kira Stoll, considering the SCC is “important” to campus initiatives and aids in decision making for both financial and environmental purposes.
In their recommendations to the Biden administration, the researchers suggested a new consideration of equity, examinations of the “impacts of climate change on human welfare,” and incorporating broad input into calculations, among other suggestions.
One of the most essential steps, according to Wagner, is an increase to $50 for the interim SCC.
“That’s the interim step — instead of $1-7, go back to $50 immediately. … There are other changes that could be done, but at least do that,” Wagner said. “The other seven steps basically focus on the broader process, the yearlong process and hard work to arrive at the final.”
In his executive order, Biden directed the release of an interim SCC after a month and the creation of a more permanent SCC by an Interagency Working Group after a year.
A final SCC in 11 months still lacks permanence — the SCC will have certain limitations and should be left open for future change, according to the recommendations.
“What matters is setting up the process that is being informed by the best science and economics,” Wagner said. “As we learn more — as the SCC quantifies new climate damages, that new knowledge ought to be incorporated and also inform the SCC.”