The People vs. Carbon: Social Cost of Carbon Q&A

פורסם: 8 בפבר׳ 2014, 12:58 על ידי: Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 8 בפבר׳ 2014, 12:59 ]
January 21, 2014 | 12:30 pm |

Let’s face it – the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), while an incredibly important policy tool, could be a little more straightforward. Last Wednesday, Maggie L. Fox, CEO and President of The Climate Reality Project explained what the SCC is all about and laid out the facts in the case of the People vs. Carbon during a live webinar. (Watch the recording on-demand here.)

During the webinar, we spoke about the future we’re all working to create – one in which carbon pollution-fueled climate change is a thing of the past. To get there, we first have to understand why carbon pollution is a problem. We need to be able to recognize and account for the costs of carbon pollution to our health, our livelihoods, our infrastructure and our climate. Then we need to do something about it and put a price on carbon.

We had time for a few brief questions, but many more came to us through the webinar’s chat function and Twitter.

Here are some of the top questions our audience submitted. We hope these help you better understand what’s really happening with the SCC – and that you submit your comment to the White House Office of Management and Budget today.

Q. How far does a price on carbon go to actually reducing carbon pollution?

A.  Quite far, actually. A price on carbon does two important things. First, it shifts the financial responsibility for the devastation caused by carbon pollution off ordinary citizens and onto the fossil fuels responsible for producing it—and making record profits while they do.

Second, it uses market forces to trigger a whole series of fundamental changes in how we think about and use energy as a society. With a price on carbon, the economics of fossil fuels reflects their true cost to all of us. Meanwhile, clean energy sources that produce no or little carbon pollution become even more cost-competitive and in the long run much cheaper. They also become more attractive investments, which in turn promotes further research and innovation. As people turn to more clean energy sources for their power and also make a greater priority of energy efficiency, they use less fossil fuels and so produce less carbon pollution. Think of it as a virtuous cycle of sorts.

Q. Is there a comprehensive body of data on fossil fuel subsidies?

A. In 2013, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that global energy subsidies totaled $1.9 trillion (for more information, see here  and here [PDF]). In the U.S., the White House committed in October 2013 to begin publishing an annual tally of federal fossil fuel subsidies.

Q. The EPA uses a formula which does not include critical data from climate science, because that data is not precisely quantified, and thus uncertain (economists don’t like uncertainty). However, by ignoring the worst, and increasingly most likely threats, the EPA is ignoring the real danger in their artificially low social cost of carbon estimates. How is The Climate Reality Project addressing this (Particularly when Exxon is already budgeting for a carbon tax considerably higher than the EPA estimates)? Our goal is to drastically reduce the carbon in the atmosphere, not simply make it slightly more expensive to emit.

A. The task force in charge of developing the SCC estimates—which includes representatives from the EPA—utilizes models that incorporate the latest available science. While these estimates are a good first step, there is no doubt that these models omit critical pieces that would otherwise push the SCC estimates higher.

Here at The Climate Reality Project, we believe an accurate SCC value that accounted for the impact of carbon pollution on everything from our tax burden to our health care costs would be significantly higher than the current estimate of $37/metric ton. However, we support and applaud OMB’s work to raise it from the initial $23.80/metric ton. With the fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress actively doing everything they can to undermine this increase, our first step is to protect this progress. Taking this first step, though, doesn’t mean that we stop marching forward.

Q. How is the Social Cost of Carbon used – is there an example you can provide to illustrate its use? 

A. The government uses the SCC in all cost-benefit analyses where new regulations could potentially affect greenhouse gas emissions. Or, to put it another way, the government can estimate how much more or less carbon pollution any new rule would lead to. Using the SCC, the government then estimates how much this increase or decrease would cost or save us as a society, thanks to the damage carbon pollution causes.

We saw what this meant in practice last year when  the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) updated its energy efficiency standards for microwaves so new models had to use less power. The DOE estimated this rule would prevent the release of over 31 million metric tons of carbon pollution between 2016—2045. Using the SCC estimates for these 30 years, the DOE could then project that preventing these emissions would result in a societal benefit of a little over $1 billion, a clear win by any count.

Q. What’s next for the Social Cost of Carbon after the comment period closes? 

A. The White House will review all the comments it receives and determine what—if any—changes it needs to make to the SCC estimate. Going forward, the taskforce responsible will keep reviewing the latest science and update the SCC accordingly.

Q. How does the Social Cost of Carbon fit into President Obama’s Climate Action Plan? 

A. It’s a key part of the Climate Action Plan, helping the government make smart policy decisions that consider the big picture and help us reduce our carbon pollution.