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Nature commentary: Energy policy- Push renewables to spur carbon pricing

In this comment piece in Nature, a group of researchers argue that putting a price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to curb emissions must form the centrepiece of any comprehensive climate-change policy.

They point out that the current price of carbon remains much too low relative to the hidden environmental, health and societal costs of burning a tonne of coal or a barrel of oil. The global average price is below zero, once half a trillion dollars of fossil-fuel subsidies are factored in.

While some efforts have been made to price carbon, these are not enough. They also highlight a catch-22 at the heart of the problem: policymakers are more likely to price carbon appropriately if it is cheaper to move onto a low-carbon path. But reducing the cost of renewable energies requires investment, and thus a carbon price.  The authors suggest four ways forward:

  • Check that all climate-change interventions pass a benefit-cost test (taking environmental, health and societal costs into account);
  • Develop policies that ensure that any renewables policy will make a national — and eventually global — carbon cap or tax more likely.  Don’t develop policies that get in the way of this goal.
  • Open up access to electricity grids for renewables and break up any non-competitive arrangements and support the modernization of power grids to facilitate adoption of new renewable energy sources; and
  • View the energy sector in its entirety since transportation may become increasingly dependent on electricity.


Wagner, G., Kåberger, T., Olai, S., Oppenheimer, M., Rittenhouse, K., Sterner, T., Energy policy: Push renewables to spur carbon pricing. Nature, 2015; 525 (7567): 27 DOI: 10.1038/525027a

Read the full article here, see coverage in Science Daily here and read more in the Research Library categories on Climate change mitigation, Governance and policy, Climate policy, Emissions trading and Renewable energy.

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11 Sep 2015