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Getting the Social Cost of Carbon Right

US President Joe Biden's administration must put a high enough price on carbon pollution to encourage the scale and urgency of action needed to meet the commitments that it has made to Americans and the rest of the world. The future of the planet depends on it.

LONDON/NEW YORK – US President Joe Biden deserves congratulations for committing the United States to rejoin global efforts to combat climate change. But America and the world must respond to the challenge efficiently. Here, Biden’s January 20 executive order establishing an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases is an especially important step.

The group’s task is to devise a better estimate for the dollar cost to society (and the planet) of each ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The number, referred to as the social cost of carbon (SCC), gives policymakers and government agencies a basis for evaluating the benefits of public projects and regulations designed to curb CO2 emissions – or of any project or regulation that might indirectly affect emissions.

If the working group settles on a low number, many emission-curbing projects and regulations won’t go ahead, because their price tags will exceed the estimated climate benefits. So, it is vital to get the number right – and by right, we mean higher than it has been in the past.

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