Using the environment to help address the nation’s pollution problems. That’s the focus of a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and researchers at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) and Indiana University.
The “Cost of U.S. Forest-based Carbon Sequestration” investigates the potential for incorporating land-use changes into climate policy. Authored by economists Robert Stavins of the Kennedy School of Government and Kenneth Richards of Indiana University, the report looks at the true “opportunity costs” of utilizing U.S. forest lands for carbon dioxide “sequestration,” in contrast with other productive uses. The report also examines the many factors that drive the economics of storing carbon in forests over long periods of time.

“The Kennedy School has been a leader in research on global climate change policy,” says Stavins. “One area where I’ve focused some of my research has been econometric analysis of the costs of carbon sequestration, that is, the costs of addressing the threat of climate change by inducing changes in land use that remove carbon dioxide – a principal greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere.”

Most analyses of the climate issue have tended to focus on the implications of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from key industrial and transportation sources. Less attention is paid to the potential for storing (or “sequestering”) carbon in forests and other ecosystems. Both emissions reduction and carbon sequestration are important strategies for addressing climate change.

Among Stavins and Richards’ key conclusions: The estimated cost of sequestering up to 500 million tons of carbon per year – an amount that would offset up to one-third of current annual U.S. carbon emissions – ranges from $30 to $90 per ton. On a per-ton basis, this is comparable to the cost estimated for other options for addressing climate change, including fuel switching and energy efficiency.

A sequestration program on the scale envisioned by the authors would involve large expanses of land and significant up-front investment. As a result, implementation would require careful attention to program design and a phased approach over a number of years. Nevertheless, the report offers new evidence that sequestration can and should play an important role in the United States’ response to climate change.