Keep Climate Policy Focused on the Social Cost of Carbon

An article for Science's Policy Forum argues that a shift from the use of the social cost of carbon and benefit-cost analysis for evaluating policy would be misguided.

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Aug. 20, 2021


Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen, Robert Stavins, and James Stock


Journal Article in Science

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1 minute


In the context of climate change, the application of cost-benefit analysis to inform mitigation policies can help to achieve the best outcomes and avoid the worst: spending trillions of dollars but failing to get the job done (1). The costs of a climate policy are the abatement costs of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) (or other greenhouse gases). The standard measure of the benefits of a climate policy is the social cost of carbon (SCC), which measures the avoided economic damages associated with a metric ton of CO2 emissions. Recently, however, there have been calls for an alternative approach to policy evaluation that ignores the benefits of avoided climate damages and instead focuses only on minimizing the compliance costs of a given, politically determined climate objective (2, 3). We argue here that a shift from use of the SCC and cost-benefit analysis to an alternative approach for evaluating policy that focuses on costs alone would be misguided. Rather than advocate for alternative approaches, now is the time to support efforts to update the SCC and its application to official climate policy evaluation.


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