By Marianne Lavelle
The Trump administration didn’t put much value on lowering carbon emissions.
In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.
President Joe Biden’s White House took a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy on Friday by directing federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.
That figure, applied during the Obama administration, will serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist who served as chief economist for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, was a co-author of a working paper last month that put the social cost of carbon at $125 per ton or more. And Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a groundbreaking 2006 U.K. study on the economic cost of climate change, published a paper released Monday that warned a return to the Obama-era number would be a fundamentally flawed approach. “It is clear that climate change involves the management of risks of enormous magnitude and multiple dimensions, which could destroy lives and livelihoods across the world, displace billions, and lead to widespread, prolonged, and severe conflict,” they wrote.