Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon

Frank Ackerman

For the first time, the U.S. government is working to limit carbon emissions – most notably through new fuel efficiency standards unveiled April 1. To inform cost-benefit analyses of proposed policies, the Obama administration has relied on an interagency group’s estimates of the “social cost of carbon,” the socioeconomic impact of every ton of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere. The higher the social cost of carbon (SCC), the more stringent the regulatory standards that will be deemed to be worthwhile.

So far, no definite SCC has been set, but the interagency group has proposed $21 per ton. In a new Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3 Network) white paper, Liz Stanton and I analyze the economic models used by the interagency group. They find significant shortcomings, and show how they lead to substantial underestimates of the risks and costs of climate change.

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