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The social cost of carbon revisited

Robert Pindyck ()

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2019, vol. 94, issue C, 140-160

Abstract: An estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC) is crucial to climate policy. But how should we estimate the SCC? A common approach uses an integrated assessment model (IAM) to simulate time paths for the atmospheric CO2 concentration, its impact on temperature, and resulting reductions in GDP. I have argued that IAMs have deficiencies that make them poorly suited for this job, but what is the alternative? I present an approach to estimating an average SCC, which I argue can be a useful guide for policy. I rely on a survey of experts to elicit opinions regarding (1) probabilities of alternative economic outcomes of climate change, but not the causes of those outcomes; and (2) the reduction in emissions required to avert an extreme outcome, i.e., a large climate-induced reduction in GDP. The average SCC is the ratio of the present value of lost GDP from an extreme outcome to the total emission reduction needed to avert that outcome. I discuss the survey instrument, explain how experts were identified, and present results. I obtain SCC estimates of $200/mt or higher, but the variation across experts is large. Trimming outliers and focusing on experts who expressed a high degree of confidence in their answers yields lower SCCs, $80 to $100/mt, but still well above the IAM-based estimates used by the U.S. government.

Keywords: Climate policy; GHG emissions; Climate change impacts; Climate catastrophe; Damages; Uncertainty; Willingness to pay; Social cost of carbon; Expert survey (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: Q5 Q54 D81 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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Working Paper: The Social Cost of Carbon Revisited (2016) Downloads
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DOI: 10.1016/j.jeem.2019.02.003

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Journal of Environmental Economics and Management is currently edited by M.A. Cole, A. Lange, D.J. Phaneuf, D. Popp, M.J. Roberts, M.D. Smith, C. Timmins, Q. Weninger and A.J. Yates

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