Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Simon Berger
A multi-year study of the social cost of carbon, a critical input for climate policy analysis, finds that every additional ton of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere costs society $185 — far higher than the current federal estimate of $51 per ton.
After years of robust modeling and analysis, a multi-institutional team led by
researchers from Resources for the Future (RFF) and the University of
California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) has released an updated estimate for the
social cost of carbon that reflects new methodologies and key scientific
published in the journal Nature, finds that each additional ton of carbon
dioxide emitted into the atmosphere costs society $185 per ton — 3.6 times
the current US federal estimate of $51 per ton.
The social cost of
is a critical metric that measures the economic damages, in dollars, that result
from the emission of one additional ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A
high social cost of carbon can motivate more stringent climate policies, as it
increases the estimated benefits of reducing greenhouse gases.
“Our estimate, which draws on recent advances in the scientific and economic
literature, shows that we are vastly underestimating the harm of each additional
ton of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere,” said RFF President
and CEO Richard G. Newell, who coauthored the peer-reviewed paper. “The
implication is that the benefits of government policies and other actions that
reduce global warming pollution are greater than has been assumed.”
Aside from the estimate itself, a major output of the study is the Greenhouse
Gas Impact Value Estimator (GIVE)
— an open-source software platform that allows users to replicate the team’s
methodology or compute their own social cost of carbon estimates. The GIVE model
estimates the social cost of carbon as an aggregate of impacts calculated in
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Socioeconomic — which determines future projections of GDP, population
Climate — which transates emissions projections into changes in the
Damages — which translates changes in the climate system into economic
Discounting — which translates future economic damages into present-day
As the RFF team explained in a blog
“Since 2017, RFF has been working toward updating the scientific basis that
underlies the social cost of carbon (SCC). Our new paper delivers an updated SCC
that is fully responsive to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering
and Medicine (NASEM) near-term recommendations for improving the
scientific basis of the SCC. The key takeaway is that our comprehensive update
delivers a central estimate of the SCC of $185 per ton of CO₂, which is 3.6
times larger than the US government’s current interim estimate of $51 per ton.
This updated estimate implies that the benefits of climate policies are much
larger than what the US government historically has concluded.”
The team’s latest research completes its work on the last part, the Damages
module, which translates changes in global temperatures to dollar-value impacts
for specific concerns: including human health (which a 2021 NRDC report
estimated was impacted by climate change and fossil fuel pollution to the tune
of $820 billion a year in the US
— specifically, temperature-related mortality; agricultural
energy expenditures related to heating and cooling buildings; and the coastal
impacts of sea level
This last step completes the scientific updates to these four elements of SCC
estimation as recommended by NASEM — the final component needed to complete the
“Our hope is that the freely available, open-source GIVE model we’re introducing
forms the foundation for continuous improvement of the estimates by an expanded
community of scientists worldwide,” said RFF Felow Kevin Rennert. “A completely transparent
methodology has been a guiding principle for our work — which is also directly
relevant to other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxides.”
The study, led by Rennert and UC Berkeley Associate Professor David Anthoff, brought together a multidisciplinary team of leading
researchers from institutions across the United States to develop important
updates to social cost of carbon modeling. The study has also yielded a new data
tool, the Social Cost of Carbon
demonstrates the working mechanics of the GIVE model and allows users to explore
the data in detail.
Notably, the new Nature study is fully responsive to the methodological
recommendations of a seminal 2017 National Academies report co-chaired by Newell
and RFF’s Maureen Cropper. A federal interagency working group on the social
costs of greenhouse gases, disbanded during the previous administration but
reestablished by an executive order from President Biden, is also updating
its social cost of carbon estimate using the 2017 recommendations.
“We hope that our research helps inform the anticipated updated social cost of
carbon from the government’s interagency working group,” said Brian C.
Prest, coauthor and director of RFF’s Social Cost of Carbon
“Decisions are only as strong as the science behind them. And our study finds
that carbon dioxide emissions are more costly to society than many people likely
Anthoff emphasized that the diverse expertise of the paper’s authors stems from
the multi-faceted nature of the research.
“Estimating the social cost of carbon requires inputs from many academic
disciplines,” he said. “When we started this project, we knew that we would only
succeed by assembling a team of leading researchers in each discipline to
contribute their expertise. I am especially proud of the all-star group of
researchers across so many leading institutions that jointly worked on this
By quantifying the increased estimated benefits of reducing greenhouse gases,
the exponentially higher SCC estimate not only has striking implications for the
evolution of more effective government climate policies; the data can hopefully
help foster more cohesion and higher standards in science-based carbon-reduction targets and the rapidly growing voluntary
carbon market — a linchpin in many a corporate climate action
which, as John Oliver recently pointed
is deeply flawed and potentially even counterproductive in its current form.
Published Sep 9, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST