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National Academies Report Won’t Rely Heavily On Carbon Price To Address Climate Change


The carbon tax, once the darling of economists trying to mitigate climate change, has lost luster lately. On Tuesday, the nation’s leading scientific body will recommend a carbon price in the effort to halt greenhouse-gas pollution, but as a mere sibling to many other policies.

“It’s a long list of policies,” said Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton energy-systems professor who serves on the National Academies’ committee assessing the actions needed to hasten decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

“So carbon pricing’s on the list, but it’s—I think we have a summary table there that’s like five-pages long of policies,” Jenkins said Thursday in a webinar hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

“I think that’s the approach. You need a whole lot of mechanisms to get us on this path, and carbon pricing’s a useful tool, but by no means the only tool.”

Jenkins helped author a Princeton University study that estimates the U.S. must invest $2.5 trillion by 2030 to move onto a promising path to decarbonization.

“I am heartened by the recent mantra of the Biden Administration of a whole-of-government approach,” Jenkins said, “because it really does take a whole bunch of levers to do that, to touch all of these boxes and make sure that there’s some inducement to move off of this frozen policy case onto that $2.5 trillion investment path.”

A carbon price could do the job itself, he said, but it would have to price a ton of carbon at several hundred dollars. Unlikely, he said, given the politics.

“It’s unlikely we’re going to drive all of this change with a uniform economy-wide carbon price. I don’t think there’s any examples in the world of a country doing that, and that’s for a reason.”

President Obama’s 2009 effort to establish a carbon price of only $20 per ton died in Congress. UC Santa Barbara political scientist Leah Stokes also cited political constraints in a recent article rethinking the carbon price.

Mark Hughes, the faculty director of Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, noted the popularity of the carbon price: “It’s always the first answer to the question, If you could do one thing, what would you do? And so on.” But he also noted such emerging rivals as green industrial policies or massive public-private investment.

Other promising policies, according to Jenkins, include regulatory standards like California’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle Program and subsidies for clean energy, which “are clearly one thing that most countries in the world are doing, and (they) are working to drive technological change and industrial transformation and carbon reduction.

“There’s a whole bunch of regulatory tools and incentives and penalties that have to be deployed.”

Jenkins and other members of the National Academies’ committee will highlight that five-page summary of policies Tuesday in the report on Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions.

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