Estimating a social cost of carbon for global energy consumption
Nature volume 598, pages 308–314 (2021)
Estimates of global economic damage caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions can inform climate policy1,2,3. The social cost of carbon (SCC) quantifies these damages by characterizing how additional CO2 emissions today impact future economic outcomes through altering the climate4,5,6. Previous estimates have suggested that large, warming-driven increases in energy expenditures could dominate the SCC7,8, but they rely on models9,10,11 that are spatially coarse and not tightly linked to data2,3,6,7,12,13. Here we show that the release of one ton of CO2 today is projected to reduce total future energy expenditures, with most estimates valued between −US$3 and −US$1, depending on discount rates. Our results are based on an architecture that integrates global data, econometrics and climate science to estimate local damages worldwide. Notably, we project that emerging economies in the tropics will dramatically increase electricity consumption owing to warming, which requires critical infrastructure planning. However, heating reductions in colder countries offset this increase globally. We estimate that 2099 annual global electricity consumption increases by about 4.5 exajoules (7 per cent of current global consumption) per one-degree-Celsius increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST), whereas direct consumption of other fuels declines by about 11.3 exajoules (7 per cent of current global consumption) per one-degree-Celsius increase in GMST. Our finding of net savings contradicts previous research7,8, because global data indicate that many populations will remain too poor for most of the twenty-first century to substantially increase energy consumption in response to warming. Importantly, damage estimates would differ if poorer populations were given greater weight14.
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The data for replicating the findings of this study are available on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5099834.
The code for replicating the findings of this study is available on GitHub at https://github.com/ClimateImpactLab/energy-code-release-2020/.
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This project is an output of the Climate Impact Lab consortium that gratefully acknowledges funding from the Carnegie Corporation, Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC), the International Growth Centre, the National Science Foundation (SES1463644), the Sloan Foundation and the Tata Center for Development. T.C. acknowledges funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency Science To Achieve Results Fellowship (FP91780401). J.R. acknowledges funding from the H2020-MSCA-RISE project GEMCLIME-2020 GA number 681228. We thank L. Alcocer, T. Bearpark, T. Chong, Z. Delgerjargal, G. Dobbels, D. Gergel, R. Goyal, S. Greenhill, I. Higuera-Mendieta, D. Hogan, A. Hussain, T. Kulczycki, R. Li, B. Malevich, M. Norman, O. Nwabuikwu, S. Annan-Phan, C. Schwarz, N. Sharma, J. Simcock, Y. Song, E. Tenezakis, J. Wang and J. Yang for research assistance during all stages of this project, and we thank S. Anderson, J. Chang, M. Landín and T. Mayer for project management. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for the CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Extended Data Fig. 2b) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank seminar participants at the UC Berkeley Energy Camp, the University of Chicago EPIC Lunch Series and the Mansueto Institute Lunch Colloquium, LSE Workshop in Environmental Economics, International Energy Workshop, International Workshop on Empirical Methods in Energy Economics, the University of Michigan Sustainability and Development Conference, the Berkeley/Harvard/Yale Environmental and Energy Economics Seminar, the NBER EEE Summer Institute, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Climate Adaptation Research Symposium and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Climate Change Economics Workshop for helpful comments.