Future costs of emissions three times higher than assumed, finds study

(China Dialogue, 16 Nov 2022) The US puts a dollar figure on the damage caused by carbon emissions, but new research finds it’s too low, meaning the benefits of reducing emissions are being underestimated.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, so the saying goes. Understanding the effect of today’s emissions on tomorrow’s people is hugely complex and the methods used so far have had to be approximate.

Now, a team of scientists led by Resources for the Future (RFF), a Washington DC-based nonprofit, has completed a multi-year study that has updated a key metric, known as the social cost of carbon (SCC). The results, published in Nature magazine, provide a much clearer, evidence-based picture, which is likely to change government policy in the US and beyond.

What is the social cost of carbon?

SCC is a dollar estimate of the long-term damage caused by emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide in a given year. It’s designed to weigh the benefits of reducing warming against the costs of cutting emissions. Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist, first calculated it in 2010. He has since described it as “the most important number you’ve never heard of. It captures the changes in mortality rates that are going to happen… the changes in crop yields… the changes in sea level rise, and the damages that will cost…”

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China Dialogue, 16 Nov 2022: Future costs of emissions three times higher than assumed, finds study