Tag Archives: Climate change

Economic Aspects of the Energy Transition

In an NBER working paper, Geoffrey Heal discusses some aspects of the energy transition to come.

On infrastructure investments:

the likely net investment required to go carbon-free is now as little as $0.179 trillion

renewable power from wind and solar PV plants is now less expensive than power from gas, coal or nuclear plants … If it were not for the intermittency of renewables, we would save money by converting to clean power.

the social benefits from stopping the CO2 emissions from coal and gas in power generation in the U.S. amount to $200bn annually, roughly an order of magnitude greater than the costs. Furthermore, these benefits will continue for ever, whereas the costs are fully paid by 2050. … As greenhouse gases are a global public bad, many of these benefits will accrue to countries other than the U.S.

Carbon taxes only delay the extraction of fossil fuels except for those fuels whose marginal extraction cost is sufficiently high such that extraction cost plus tax exceeds the cost of alternative energy sources:

the Pigouvian and Hotelling frameworks lead to rather different conclusions when it comes to thinking about the effectiveness of a carbon tax. Pigou emphasizes the impact of a tax on substitution between commodities, in this case between energy sources. Hotelling on the other hand emphasizes the impact of a tax on an exhaustible resource on the time-path of consumption of that resource.

[in the Hotelling setting] the tax either has no effect at all on the cumulative consumption of the fossil fuel, or it drives it out of the market completely.

If we want to reduce cumulative oil consumption by for example 30%, then we need a tax of about $500 per ton of CO2: if we wanted to reduce oil consumption by two thirds we would need a tax of over $600 per ton CO2.

Electricity pricing:

The marginal social cost of power from renewable sources is close to zero, as wind, solar and hydro all have essentially zero operating costs. So we would need much lower power prices to provide the correct incentives to use clean power rather than fossil fuels.

The classic response to this conundrum has been to recommend two-part tariffs, with a fixed charge or connection or membership charge recovering the fixed costs and a usage tariff covering the variable costs.

Nordhaus on Climate Change

In his Nobel lecture (reprinted in the June issue of the American Economic Review), William Nordhaus concludes that we should focus on four goals:

First, people around the world need to understand and accept … Those who understand the issue must speak up and debate contrarians who spread false and tendentious reasoning. …

Second, nations must establish policies that raise the price of CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions. …

Moreover, we need to ensure that actions are global and not just national or local. … The best hope for effective coordination is a climate club, which is a coalition of nations that commit to strong steps to reduce emissions along with mechanisms to penalize countries who do not participate. …

Finally, … [d]eveloping economical low-carbon technologies will lower the cost of achieving our climate goals. Moreover, if other policies fail, low-carbon technologies are the last refuge—short of the salvage therapy of geoengineering—for achieving our climate goals or limiting the damage.

Climate Risk, Credit Risk, and ECB Collateral

In a CEP Discussion Note, Pierre Monnin argues that financial markets mis-price climate related credit risk. If this were corrected some securities held by the ECB would loose their investment grade credit rating.

Assessing climate risks requires methodologies based on forward-looking scenarios, on complex cause-and-effect linkages and on data that has not been observed in the past. Such models are at their infancy, but already offer meaningful insights. This note provides an overview of key components that such models are built on and illustrates them with examples of the analytics that are already available. It also applies one of the available methodologies to assess transition risk to the corporate bond holdings of the European Central Bank.

Climate Science Special Report (and Tax Policy)

From About this Report:

[T]he U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) oversaw the production of this stand-alone report of the state of science relating to climate change and its physical impacts. …

The USGCRP is made up of 13 Federal departments and agencies that carry out research and support the Nation’s response to global change. The USGCRP is overseen by the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS), which in turn is overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The agencies within USGCRP are the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce (NOAA), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, the Department of State, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

From the Executive Summary:

… it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence. …

The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally. Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century. With significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less.

In the New York Times, Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush write that the report contradicts positions of the Trump administration on climate change.

While there were pockets of resistance to the report in the Trump administration, according to climate scientists involved in drafting the report, there was little appetite for a knockdown fight over climate change among Mr. Trump’s top advisers …

The White House put out a statement Friday that seemed to undercut the high level of confidence of the report’s findings. …

Responsibility for approving the report fell to Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, who generally believes in the validity of climate science and thought the issue would have been a distraction from the tax push, according to an administration official with knowledge of the situation.

MIT vs Trump, Contd.

In an open letter, MIT President Rafael Reif writes (from the opening paragraph):

Yesterday, the White House took the position that the Paris climate agreement – a landmark effort to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions – was a bad deal for America. Other nations have made clear that the deal is not open to renegotiation. And unfortunately, there is no negotiating with the scientific facts.

In March, Reif questioned planned federal spending cuts. And in January, he condemned Trump’s immigration restrictions.

Effects of Climate Change for Switzerland

In the NZZ, Christian Speicher summarizes expected consequences of climate change for Switzerland by 2050–2060.

  • Mean temperatures exceed the 1980–2009 average by 1.6–2.9 degrees Celsius.
  • The temperature increase is more pronounced in Summer than in Winter. But ski resorts below 2000m are no longer competitive.
  • Less precipitation in Summer, maybe more in Winter.
  • More extreme weather events.
  • Increased need for water storage and conservation.