BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

US government greatly underestimates cost of carbon, study finds

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JESSICA SCHWABACH | STAFF

Researchers’ new four-part model which estimates the social cost of carbon dioxide could result in further legal challenges with the federal government.

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SEPTEMBER 06, 2022

Researchers at UC Berkeley and the research organization Resources for the Future, or RFF, have created a new estimate for the social cost of carbon dioxide, or SC-CO2, in a study published Thursday.

The SC-CO2 is used by governments and businesses to make policy decisions, according to the study. The researchers’ estimate places the cost to society of emitted carbon dioxide at $185 per ton, which is 3.6 times the current U.S. government estimate of $51 per ton

The current $51 SC-CO2 estimate does not account for the latest research, according to a 2017 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

“Previous calculations underestimate the social costs of emitting carbon into the atmosphere, and this could motivate more stringent policies in the future through its impact on cost-benefit analysis,” said Lisa Rennels, a doctoral candidate at campus’s Energy and Resources Group, or ERG, in an email.

To estimate SC-CO2, the researchers developed a four-part model called the Greenhouse Gas Impact Value Estimator, or GIVE. First, the model compiles socioeconomic data projections through the year 2300 on metrics such as emissions, population and income. Next, it feeds this data into models that estimate the resulting temperature rise, sea level rise, and changes to other climate metrics.

These climate impacts were then used to estimate the damage impact on areas like agriculture, energy and human lives. Finally, the damages were standardized through a discounting module and put into a monetary amount.

While $185 was the estimated mean value of the SC-CO2, the researchers found that the actual value could be as high as $413 and as low as $44 per ton.

“One of the most impressive parts of this project, and what made it such a joy to work on, was the collaboration between so many brilliant individuals and institutions,” Rennels said in the email. “Bringing these different threads of research together is crucial.”

The study was led by ERG associate professor David Anthoff and RFF Fellow Kevin Rennert, but also involved researchers from six other universities, the Electric Power Research Institute and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The researchers have released the Social Cost of Carbon Explorer, a publicly accessible web tool based on GIVE, which allows other parties to study and build upon the data and assess the effects of key variables on the SC-CO2 estimate.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency was engaged in litigation concerning the social cost of carbon. Further legal challenges can be expected if the number is updated, Rennert noted in an RFF podcast.

“We pursued the process with transparency in the hopes that it will facilitate the government updates,” Rennert said in the podcast. “The decision on what they will use is up to the federal government in the end.”

Contact Ratul Mangal at 

LAST UPDATED

SEPTEMBER 07, 2022


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