By Eric Roston

Back in 1991, when climate policy was in its infancy, an Exxon subsidiary came to a startling and prescient conclusion about how to curb carbon-dioxide emissions that cause global warming. It would require a heavy price on CO2 pollution before the companies creating emissions would change, the researchers concluded, at a level far higher than almost any in use today.

Calgary-based Imperial Oil Ltd., which has ties to Exxon’s predecessors going back to the end of the 19th century, hired an outside research firm to look at how environmental taxes might affect both CO2 pollution and the Canadian economy. Cutting emissions would only be possible with a price per ton of about C$55, or roughly C$95 ($72) in today’s money and, the researchers argued, the economic impacts would be vast.

The world is nowhere near the price that researchers determined in 1991 would be sufficient to cause a decline in emissions. The average global carbon price—including $0 for every nation without one—is $2.48 per ton of C02, according to Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist who helped develop the Obama administration’s carbon-pricing policy.

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Areas of Focus: Social Cost of Carbon
Social Cost of Carbon
The social cost of carbon is an essential tool for incorporating the cost of climate change into policy-making, corporate planning and investment decisionmaking in the United States and around the...