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Scientists explore how to recalculate the social cost of carbon

Scientists explore how to recalculate the social cost of carbon
A team of economists, ethicists and environmental scientists have offered the Biden administration advice for recalibrating the social cost of carbon. Photo by EPA-EFE/RYAN TONG

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden and his administration want to recalibrate the "social cost of carbon," a metric used to inform public policy decision making by putting a price on the non-market impacts of carbon emissions on the environment and human health.

In a new paper, published Friday in the journal Nature, a group of researchers in the fields of economies, ethics and environmental science offered a series of recommendations for the revision process.

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On the first day of his presidency, Biden created an interagency working group tasked with revising the social cost of greenhouse gases. The president's executive order called for an updated interim figure within 30 days, and a final revised metric within a year.

"Our work outlines how the administration can use the latest research in ways that take into account storms, wildfires, and other phenomena that are more devastating today than they were when the SCC was first created," Gernot Wagner, lead author of the new paper and a climate economist at New York University, said in a news release.

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At the end of President Obama's second term, officials pegged the the social cost of carbon, or SCC, at $51 per metric ton. President Donald Trump and his administration recalibrated the figure downward to less than $7, making almost any regulation designed to curb emissions economically infeasible.

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The authors of the newest paper on the subject suggest Biden's working group start the recalibration process by returning the SCC to $51 and revising upward from there.

Next, according to the new paper, working group members should recalibrate the damages used to calculate the effects of climate change on human welfare.

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There are the obvious costs, like damages from flooding and crop losses caused by prolonged droughts. And there are the less obvious costs, such as declines in student learning and worker productivity brought on by heatwaves.

"The damage and loss of life caused by the severe weather in Texas is only the latest example of how climate change can upend our well-being in ways not imagined only 10 years ago," said Wagner.

Researchers also suggest Biden's working group find a way to recalibrate so-called "discount rates," functions for calculating the monetary cost of future climate-related damages.

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"Economic analysis is at the heart of the regulatory process in the U.S. and will therefore play a major role in shaping and informing the ambitious climate goals from the new administration," said David Anthoff, study co-author and assistant professor of energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley. "Our recommendations offer a roadmap for how this can be done in a way that is both scientifically rigorous and transparent."

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Authors of the new paper suggest Biden's working group consider the inequities of the social costs of carbon, both within the United States and across international borders. Minority and marginalized communities continue to experience environmental injustice. On average, these groups breathe dirtier air, drink more polluted water and are exposed to higher levels of industrial contaminants.

Finally, researchers suggest Biden's working group update forecasts for both economic and population growth, growth rates that influence both emissions totals and related environmental impacts.

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"Climate science and economics have advanced since 2010," the study's authors wrote. "Devastating storms and wildfires are now more common, and costs are mounting. Advances in science mean that researchers can now link many more extreme weather events directly to climate change, and new econometric techniques help to quantify dollar impacts."

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