The Future Costs of Methane Emissions

The Future Costs of Methane Emissions

An analysis of the costs of climate change caused by adding one tonne of methane to the atmosphere finds that high-income regions of the world should spend much more on efforts to lower such emissions than should low-income regions.

Nature, 2021

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By comparing the human costs of climate change with actual monetary losses, a research group determined that the world’s high-income communities should pay more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than poorer populations. In this Nature article, James K. Hammitt, a professor of economics and decision sciences at Harvard University, analyzes the value “SC-CH4” used by the researchers to pursue more precise measurements of the social costs and detrimental changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions over time. The study points toward a more equitable, effective way to pay for climate change effects worldwide.


Decarbonization actions are justified when the monetary cost of releasing greenhouse gases adds up to less than the social cost. 

Errickson et al. assign the value SC-CH4 to greenhouse gas emissions’ social costs. This refers to the harm, expressed as a monetary value, of estimated damage done by releasing methane into Earth’s atmosphere.

This value can inform climate discussions and policies with reliable cost-benefit analyses. Used in reverse, it can also compute the lessening of damage that results from a reduction in emissions.

Computer analyses can simulate the effects of climate change on human well-being over centuries using an “integrated assessment model” (IAM).

Errickson et al. mixed and matched model components, following directives from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine...

About the Author

James K. Hammitt is a professor of economics and decision sciences at the Center for Risk Analysis at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University.

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