Ebene Magazine – When calculating the social cost of methane, equity matters

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April 21, 2021

from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

What does 1 ton of greenhouse gas cost? If a climate-warming gas such as carbon dioxide or methane is released into the atmosphere, its effects can be felt years and even decades in the future – in the form of rising sea levels, changes in agricultural productivity or more extreme weather events. like droughts, floods and heat waves. These impacts are quantified in a metric called the « social cost of carbon », which is seen as an important tool for sound and efficient climate policy.

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A new study by a team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley now reports that the social cost of methane – a greenhouse gas 30 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in its ability to Storing heat – to vary by an order of magnitude between industrial and developing regions of the world.

The study recently published in Nature notes that by taking into account economic inequalities between countries and regions, the social costs of methane in Africa south of the Sahara by almost a factor of 10 and in industrialized countries by almost a factor of 10. like the United States. The study calculated a global median estimate of the social costs of methane of $ 922 per tonne (excluding inequality), which fell to $ 130 per tonne for sub-Saharan Africa and rose to $ 8,040 per tonne for the US.

« The paper broadly supports the previous US government estimates of the social costs of methane. However, if you use the number as it is normally used – as a global estimate, as if all countries were the same – the inequalities will not « said William Collins, a researcher at Berkeley Lab, one of the study’s co-authors. The study’s lead authors were David Anthoff, professor at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, and Frank Errickson, a graduate student in of the group at the time of the study. « The Biden administration’s climate agenda calls for the prioritization of environmental justice and equity. We are giving them the opportunity to incorporate equity concerns directly into methane emission regulations, » said Errickson, now a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. « Our results show that the same climate impacts, measured in US dollars, cause greater welfare losses in low-income regions compared to wealthy regions. »

Like the social cost of carbon, the social cost of methane is one Metric that is not widely used by the public but is increasingly used by government agencies and corporations to make policy and capital investment decisions. By properly considering future damage that may be caused by greenhouse gas emissions, policy makers can weigh current costs against damage avoided in the future. In fact, the latest White House decree on the climate crisis set up a working group that provides for an accurate billing of the social costs of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide within a year.

« President Biden’s action represents a much-needed return to science sound policy in the United States, « said Anthoff. « Devastating weather events and forest fires have become more common, and the cost of climate change is increasing. »

« The social costs of methane and carbon dioxide are constantly being used directly in cost-benefit analyzes, » said Collins. « You need to figure out how to maximize the utility of a dollar spent on methane emissions reduction as opposed to other ways to spend that dollar. You want to make sure you are not using a gold-coated patch. »

Given the current estimate of global methane emissions of 300 million tons per year, which puts the annual social cost of methane at nearly $ 300 billion, said Collins, director of Climate and Ecosystem Science at Berkeley Lab and professor on Earth at UC Berkeley and Planetary Science Department. « Wet areas become more humid and dry areas become drier, increasing the severity of storms and droughts, » he said. « The cost would include all things that result from it, such as damaged infrastructure, increased spending on cooling places, health risks related to heat, and so on. »

While some of the methane comes from natural Sources – mainly from wetlands – come about 60% of methane emissions from human activities, including agriculture, fossil fuel production, landfills, and animal production. It is viewed as a short-lived climate pollutant that only stays in the atmosphere for about a decade, compared to more than 100 years for carbon dioxide.

« Given its effectiveness as a greenhouse gas, controlling methane emissions has long been a critical component in designing a economically efficient climate policy recognized, « said Anthoff. « Our study updates the social cost of methane estimates and closes a critical gap in determining the social cost. »

Under the Obama administration, the price was estimated at around $ 1,400 per tonne. The Berkeley researchers made a technical correction to account for the adverse effects on the climate system and came up with a global average estimate of $ 922 per ton. « We suggest they slightly overestimated it, » said Collins.

More importantly, the uncertainty about the social cost of methane is social rather than physics. « As climate researchers, we’ve been trying to improve our estimates of methane-induced warming, » said Collins. « But it turns out that the physical side is no longer the main source of uncertainty in the social costs of methane. It is now being shifted to the socio-economic sector, taking into account the damage and inequalities. »

How societies will change in the future want to develop – for example, expanding cities along the coast or areas affected by floods or forest fires or moving away from such areas – is a great unknown. « If we choose to act more aggressively to mitigate climate change, the social costs of methane will drop dramatically, » said Collins.

« Continuing our work to further examine the link between climate change and socio-economic uncertainties – not to mention those complex but important issues that arise in addressing justice – is a promising area for future research and policy research, « said Anthoff.

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Related Title :
In Calculating the Social Cost of Methane does equity matter
The social cost of methane is much higher in the US than the current government estimates
The future cost of methane emissions
When calculating the social costs of methane, equity is important
When calculating the social costs of methane, justice matters

Ref: https://phys.org

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