A United Nations special climate report suggests a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would need to be as high as $27,000 per ton at the end of the century to effectively limit global warming.
For Americans, that’s the same as a $240 per gallon tax on gasoline in the year 2100, should such a recommendation were adopted. In 2030, the report says a carbon tax would need to be as high as $5,500 — that’s equivalent to a $49 per gallon gas tax.
If you think that’s an unlikely scenario, you’re probably not wrong. However, it’s what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, released Sunday night, sees as a policy option for reducing emissions enough to keep projected warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The IPCC’s report is meant to galvanize political support for doubling down on the Paris climate accord ahead of a U.N. climate summit scheduled for December. The report calls for societal changes that are “unprecedented in terms of scale” in order to limit future global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the stretch goal of the Paris accord.
However, the costs of meeting that goal are high based on the IPCC’s own figures.
In order to effectively keep future warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the IPCC says carbon taxes would need to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton in 2030, $245 to $13,000 per ton in 2050, $420 to $17,000 per ton in 2070 and $690 to $27,000 per ton in 2100.
To meet the goals of the Paris accord, which seeks to limit future warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, the IPCC says carbon taxes would have range between $10 and $200 in 2030 and $160 and $2,125 in 2100.
That’s equivalent to a gas tax as high as $1.70 per gallon in 2030 to nearly $19 per gallon at the end of the century. That’s less onerous than limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but still no walk in the park.
California and many European countries have policies to price carbon dioxide emissions and mandate green energy, including cap-and-trade systems and carbon taxes. But carbon prices under those systems are nowhere near where the IPCC says they need to be.
The IPCC said the “price of carbon would need to increase significantly when a higher level of stringency is pursued.” However, the group’s report tacitly acknowledges the unlikelihood that governments will enact astronomical taxes on energy.
“While the price of carbon is central to prompt mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5 [degree Celsius]-consistent pathways, a complementary mix of stringent policies is required,” reads the IPCC’s report.
In the U.S., Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposed to carbon taxes in July. Democrats called for a price on carbon dioxide in their 2016 party platform, but they haven’t made much effort on that front since the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010.
Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida introduced carbon tax legislation shortly after all but five of his GOP colleagues in the House voted to oppose such a bill. Curbelo’s bill would tax carbon dioxide at $23 a ton — nowhere near what the IPCC calls for.
However, the IPCC suggested a lower carbon tax could be used in conjunction with command and control policies, like regulations and bans on coal plants, could achieve “generate a 1.5˚C pathway for the U.S. electric sector.”
But that point only serves to undermine Curbelo’s bill, which would put a moratorium on some environmental regulations and possibly eliminate some if emissions goals are reached.
The IPCC noted the “literature indicates that the pricing of emissions is relevant but needs to be complemented with other policies to drive the required changes in line with 1.5°C-consistent cost-effective pathways.”