Carbon tax found to be the most effective way to cut emissions

Directly charging money for carbon emissions is the cheapest and most efficient policy change for tackling climate change, researchers have said.

Ohio State University researchers analysed the costs and effects that a variety of policy changes would have on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in Texas and found that adding a price, based on the cost of climate change, to carbon was the most effective.

“If the goal is reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, what we found is that putting a price on carbon and then letting suppliers and consumers make their production and consumption choices accordingly is much more effective than other policies,” said Ramteen Sioshansi, senior author of the study.

While the study did not examine how policy changes might affect the reliability of the Texas power system, it did evaluate other policies, including mandates that a certain amount of energy in a region’s energy portfolio come from renewable sources, and found that they were either more expensive or not as effective as carbon taxes at reducing the amount of airborne CO2.

Subsidies for renewable energy sources were also not as effective at reducing carbon dioxide, the study found.

The researchers modelled what might happen if the US government used these various methods to cut carbon emission to be 80 per cent below the 2010 level by the end of 2040.

They found that carbon taxes on coal and natural-gas-fired producing units could achieve those cuts at about half the cost of tax credits for renewable energy sources.

Storing energy was also found to be crucial, because it allows energy systems to manage renewable energy resources as sources shift from climate-change-causing fossil fuels – natural gas and coal – to cleaner sources like wind and solar.

“We have known for the last 40 or more years that market-based solutions can work on issues like this,” Sioshansi said.

“If no one had to pay for the subsidies and they were truly free, that would be a great option.”

Although subsidies for renewable sources would work to decrease carbon emissions, the costs of those subsidies would be an issue, the study found.

Another study released this week from the University of East Anglia and the UK Energy Research Centre has shown that people are more engaged in reducing carbon emissions than previously thought.

“We found so many different ways that people are now engaging – from citizens’ assemblies, activism and protest through to engaging online, with smart technologies in the home, in grassroots community energy schemes and makerspaces,” lead researcher UEA professor Jason Chilvers said.

“These different forms of public engagement interrelate together in wider systems, generating new visions, values and actions on low-carbon transitions that are being missed by mainstream approaches like behaviour-change initiatives and opinion surveys.”