The real cost of carbon dioxide: new research

Anurag Sharma
Anurag Sharma

Updated · Sep 5, 2022

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According to a scientific paper published on Thursday, researchers conclude that every ton of carbon dioxide that leaves a tailpipe or smokestack, and in doing so, causes more harm than what governments now take into consideration. Major hurricanes can bring excessive rain. Extreme weather patterns like drought, wildfires, and downpours, however, are happening more frequently and with greater intensity as a result of climate change. These extremes cause the loss of homes, lives, and communities all over the globe. Researchers from several fields, including medicine, economics and science, are trying to determine the social cost of carbon dioxide.

This metric represents the damage to the climate that carbon emissions have caused. it has also been used to justify stricter carbon emission limits and increased spending on climate solutions like the transition to natural energy sources and adequate flood protection. The current price for carbon dioxide emitted by the United States is US$51. However, researchers in the journal Nature suggested that it should be US$185 per ton – 3.6 times more than the current US standard.

Kevin Rennert, a study author and director of the federal climate policy initiative at Resources for the Future, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and his colleagues have created a new model to calculate the social cost of carbon emissions. It includes several measures that were not included in prior research. The key changes include an improved accounting of uncertainty in economic growth, environmental phenomena, and future climate policy, such as the rise in sea levels. These include damage to biodiversity, human health, and ecosystems that were previously not accounted for.

These changes are in response to a 2017 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report that stated current carbon pricing calculations were not adequate and made several recommendations to bring the old models used up-to-date.

Researchers started calculating carbon emission damages in the 1980s. However, the last modelling updates were made in the mid to late 1990s. “When the Counting Crows were still on the top of charts,” stated Max Auffhammer (author of the 2017 report) and professor of international sustainability development at the University of California, Berkeley. The Nature study was not conducted by Auffhammer, however, he praised the new model. After environmentalists successfully sued government officials for not taking carbon dioxide emissions into consideration in setting vehicle mileage standards, U.S. officials started applying the cost estimate. Biden’s US$51 per ton estimate restored an Obama administration figure. Trump’s administration reduced this figure to US$7 per ton. This lower estimate only included damages suffered in the U.S.

Republicans have opposed the use of future climate damages as a guideline for policy. Last year, officials from 23 states joined forces to file two lawsuits alleging that the Biden administration illegally used the social cost carbon. The attorney’s general of Missouri and Louisiana led the lawsuits. They claim that the Biden administration plans to use future costs to justify stricter curbs on polluting industries and energy companies.

In February, a Louisiana judge blocked the administration from using the US$51-per ton value. The GOP states won this temporary victory. On the 5th of March, the US reversed that decision. The Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the states hadn’t shown any harm from the administration’s treatment of climate damage.

The lawsuits are being pursued by the states, and they argued before U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in June, seeking to block the administration again.

The legal dispute centers around the impact of the social cost of carbon on the industry. This is likely to be even more if the price per ton is US$185 or higher. As future damages become more expensive, so do the benefits of avoiding them through stricter rules.

The social cost of carbon has been an issue in more than 12 actions under Biden. These include tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars, light trucks, and new oil & natural gas lease sales on public land. Federal officials however have stated in court briefings that it has not been a major deciding factor.

Biden’s administration was scheduled to release an updated estimate by January. But, that was delayed partly due to litigation from concerned States. The White House stated that it is still looking at the best method on pricing climate damage to make policy decisions. Officials already believe that the US$51 per tonne interim price is excessive.

Anurag Sharma

Anurag Sharma

He has been helping in business of varied scales, with key strategic decisions. He is a specialist in healthcare, medical devices, and life-science, and has accurately predicted the trends in the market. Anurag is a fervent traveller, and is passionate in exploring untouched places and locations. In his free time, he loves to introspect and plan ahead.