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Pricing Carbon: 21st Century Corporate Leadership

Thomas Kerr's picture

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The call for a price on carbon is growing louder in the corridors of business and government. Last week, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wrote in The New York Times that climate risks are perhaps the biggest “known unknown” that we face, and he asked “farseeing business leaders” to demand a price on carbon—it’s the quickest, most efficient way to manage these risks.

Paulson was previewing the Risky Business report, which calculated the economic impact of climate change on U.S. businesses’ balance sheets. A few days later, CDP released a report on corporate use of internal carbon pricing.

CDP surveyed executives to find out why leading businesses are already valuing carbon to future-proof their business plans. It is interesting to note that some of the largest U.S. utilities, including American Electric Power and Exelon, price carbon in an effort to avoid stranding large fossil-fuel-fired power plants and to reassure investors.  Other less carbon-intensive businesses use internal prices to help achieve corporate sustainability goals—TD Bank aims to go carbon neutral, and Walt Disney Corporation (as well as Microsoft) uses internal pricing to encourage employee innovation while delivering profits. The value of encouraging more sustainable growth like this came through this week in the World Bank Group’s new Adding Up the Benefits report, which calculated the value of climate-smart development in lives, jobs, and economic growth, as well as the climate.

Carbon Bubbles & Stranded Assets

Vladimir Stenek's picture
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Packing an extraordinary amount of energy in little space, fossil fuels helped propel human development to levels undreamed of before the Industrial Revolution, from synthesizing fertilizers to powering space flight. But alongside energy, they produce health-damaging air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Today, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years and rising, causing climate changes that threaten to reverse decades of development gains. Disruption of livelihoods, loss of food security, loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, breakdown of infrastructure, threats to global security: these are just a few of the risks identified in recent scientific reports.

In the absence of technology to permanently remove greenhouse gases and restore atmospheric concentration to safe levels, there is only one realistic solution: limiting additional emissions. It is estimated that to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change, over the next few decades we can at most emit a quantity equal to about 20 percent of total proven fossil fuel reserves.

Given fossil fuels’ omnipresence in our economies and lives, leaving them in the ground will have important implications, starting with the value of the very assets.