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Study suggests economic stagnation no excuse for inaction on climate

Results from a new study by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge in the UK has suggest that the social cost of carbon dioxide is higher in a low economic growth world. In other words, the findings suggest that policymakers should be paying more, rather than less, attention to tackling climate change in economically tough times. A paper on the study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers investigated a range of GDP growth rates from 2008 to 2100 to see what effect they have on the mean Social Cost of CO2 (SCCO2) for a range of economic scenarios. (The social cost of CO2 measures the net present value of the extra damage caused by the emission of one more tonne of CO2 today.)

Using data from integrated assessment model, PAGE09—designed to help policy makers understand the costs of climate change—the researchers calculated the cost of emitting an extra tonne of carbon dioxide today.

The results of the exercise show the damage caused by emitting an additional tonne of carbon dioxide today is $107, assuming economic growth of around 2% per year. The cost if economies continue to stagnate is $138 per tonne, however. The mean social cost of CO2 increases when economic growth is slow because the worst climate impacts occur in a relatively poor world. The results imply that the European carbon price is currently around $100 too low.

In economically tough times, governments' attention tends to shift away from the issue of climate change. Governments are abandoning climate action as they focus on reviving their economies. But our results show economic stagnation is no excuse for climate inaction. The carbon price should actually be higher if slow economic growth continues.

—Mat Hope, Bristol School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies


  • Chris Hope & Mat Hope (2013) The social cost of CO2 in a low-growth world. Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate1935



"..economic stagnation is no excuse for climate inaction.."

Climate action can eliminate economic stagnation. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard will force innovation that creates new business.


Except the low-carbon fuels are nowhere near low enough, so they will in turn have to be replaced in short order.  This means that any infrastructure for them that cannot be re-purposed will become stranded assets.

Roger Pham

Good points, SJC and E-P.

Actions to halt GW such as development of RE and Nuclear energy and CO2-neutral fuels will lead to economic developments that will increase jobs, leading to economic growth.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard must be coordinated and well planned to produce long-lasting infrastructures that will not need replacement.

I believe the production of CO2-neutral synthetic hydrocarbon fuels by the process of pyrolysis of waste biomass and concurrent hydrogenation using renewable-energy H2 will supply vast quantity of transportation fuels that can replace current petroleum demand entirely. The liquid hydrocarbon can then be transported economically to a refinery, because it will have many folds energy density c/w raw biomass.

The scheme that I have in mind is to set up the pyrolysis plants 25-30 miles apart in agricultural areas, or one every 600-1000 square miles.

The Hydrogen can be produced by local solar PV set up in the field, or local wind turbines, for the sole purpose of producing H2 via electrolysis. As such, no need for inverter nor rectifier nor long-distance power lines needed, hence much lower cost for the solar PV or wind electricity. No need for large H2 storage container, either, because the H2 will be consumed as it is produced in the pyrolysis and hydrogenation process. Raw biomass will be gathered and stored until seasons that solar energy is plentiful, then processed and turned into refinable liquid hydrocarbon.

The above process will double or triple the yield of hydrocarbon fuel per unit of biomass used, as compared to the gasification and FC of biomass, while being much cheaper and less energy heat loss due to lower temperature and a single step process. Small BTL FC plant is not efficient due to the high temp and complexity involved, while single step pyrolysis and hydrogenation can scale down much better that still retain high efficiency.

The MidWest USA is a region of very high solar and wind resource as well as agriculture, thus, in combination with waste biomass available locally, can turn into a modern Saudi Arabia (Saudi America?) of CO2-neutral synthetic hydrocarbon fuel exportation.

This scheme above will eliminate the need for powerlines and transformers for remote wind turbines or for solar PV, no need for expensive grid-compatible inverter to convert raw DC solar PV current to AC, up transformer into high voltage, and then down transformers to convert back high voltage to low voltage, then rectifier from AC to DC for the electrolyzers, thus will significantly decrease the cost of wind and solar energy. The raw electricity can be used immediately locally to make fuels, which then can be stored on seasonal scale. No more stranded wind resource, nor surplus RE electricity when supply outpaces demand.

This type of infrastructure is energy farming that will last for decades and will still be relevant. ICE-HEV technnology will be more and more efficient that will stretch this synthetic hydrocarbon fuel further and further.

Roger Pham

BEV's, PHEV's and H2-FCV's will further reduce the need for liquid fuels, to ensure that we can wean off from petroleum completely.

Molten-salt reactors can replace coal burners in current coal-fired power plants, as E-P suggested, to ensure that we can eliminate dependency on coal and NG completely.

When all of these technologies are coordinated into a national energy plan or policy, we surely can stop the use of fossil fuels completely and in time to avert climate disaster.


It's not just funding new energy production that will stimulate economic growth, building for low energy use will too.


Sure, efficiency has always paid off, that involves innovation, engineering and manufacturing...all good for the economy.

LCFS is mostly a point system, it scores fuels on the carbon used to make it and use it. If an ethanol plant goes from coal to NG, they get a better score.

It will either work or it won't, but at least California is trying. Oregon, British Columbia, Wisconsin, Illinois and others are considering the idea. It has to start somewhere.


Inaction on climate will be very costly as extreme weather events become the norm. The globe temperature average has only gone up .8 degrees, doesn't seen like much does it? But even that small increase can hit us in big ways.

This youtube does a very good job of explaining why to the layman;


Considering how big the earth is and how deep the oceans are, a small increase is a LOT of energy.

I have a theory that the earth acts like a heat engine. Excess heat is transformed into the mechanical energy of hurricanes and tornadoes. They may not be more frequent, but they could be stronger.

We are seeing tornadoes touch down, stay down and grind their way for 40 miles. They stay in the system and go farther north. This is not a scientific observation, but something IS changing.

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