By Jean Chemnick
The White House is expected to release new values for climate change damage as soon as this month that reflect the disproportionate harm that vulnerable populations could face on a warming planet.
The social cost figures for carbon, methane and nitrous oxides attempt to translate each incremental ton of greenhouse gas emissions into dollars and cents. Federal agencies construct the figures — which are expressed as a range — using peer-reviewed models with inputs that run the gamut from global agricultural output to public health to property damage.
The goal is to build a metric that will allow agencies to assess the savings, and costs, of their climate policies.
The social cost metrics have been used in federal actions like rulemakings, lease sales and procurement decisions for over a decade.
Biden is the third president whose administration will try to assign greenhouse gases a monetized value. And unlike the estimates developed under Presidents Trump and Obama, the Biden administration’s final social cost estimates are expected to account for social and racial inequity.
Numerous studies show that the harm from climate change will be distributed unevenly, with poor populations in the U.S. and elsewhere feeling the worst affects while having the fewest resources to adapt to them.
Many environmental economists have offered proposals for how to incorporate equity issues into the new social cost of greenhouse gas figures.
Michael Greenstone, who co-chaired Obama’s interagency working group on the social cost of carbon between 2010 and 2016, co-authored a paper last year that floated giving more weight to damages occurring in poor regions of the U.S. and, by extension, poorer countries. But he raised questions about whether current OMB guidelines would allow for that kind of weighting in cost-benefit analyses.