Press Release

RFF Launches Initiative to Update Key Estimate of Benefits of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Jun 8, 2017

WASHINGTON—Resources for the Future (RFF) is announcing today a three-year initiative to update the social cost of carbon, a critical estimate for evaluating the benefits of policies and other efforts that affect the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Said RFF President Richard Newell: “The social cost of carbon provides an essential tool for making scientifically informed decisions about policies and other actions that affect climate change. The estimate informs billions of dollars of policy and investment decisions, so it is critical to use the most current and informed value possible. Resources for the Future and its academic partners have the expertise and experience to develop a best estimate of the social cost of carbon following recent recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Our work will ensure that the most current and transparent information is available to aid not just federal policymakers but also states, businesses, and all others wanting to account for climate change in their decisionmaking.”

The social cost of carbon is a dollar value estimate of the benefits of reducing—or, conversely, the damages from emitting—one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the atmosphere. Originally devised by academics, the estimate in recent years has been adopted and made uniform across the federal government and updated several times. The US government has used the social cost of carbon to account for the effects of its actions on climate change in over 150 proposed and final regulatory measures, including land use decisions and standards for vehicle fuel efficiency, power plant emissions, and appliances. The US federal estimates have been adopted by foreign governments and also are being used increasingly to inform state-level policy decisions.

The Trump administration issued an executive order in early 2017 to withdraw the previously determined federal estimate of the social cost of carbon ($42 per ton in 2020) and disband the federal Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon that was comprised of experts from across the government and charged with the development and maintenance of the estimate. The Trump administration’s executive order directs individual agencies using the social cost of carbon to take an approach that, in the views of many experts, could lead to an inappropriately narrow focus on the near term and undervalue the persistent global nature of climate change.

Added Newell, who co-chaired the National Academies committee: “While the federal government has historically played an important role assimilating the best academic research to generate estimates of the social cost of carbon, the independent scientific community also has an important role to play. Both critics and proponents of the methodology can agree that the estimates should be based on the most up-to-date science and economics, and be totally transparent. The National Academies have provided a comprehensive road map for improving estimates of the social cost of carbon on both of these fronts that RFF and its collaborators intend to follow.”

Learn more about RFF’s new initiative—Updating and Improving the Social Cost of Carbon.

Read the full National Academies report—Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide.

Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions. Please attribute any findings to the authors or the research itself. For example, use "According to research from RFF …" rather than "According to RFF …".

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.