As interest grows, Yale Carbon Charge leads the way in studying carbon pricing

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From the halls of academia to the corridors of power, there is a growing list of universities, corporations, and government officials seeking out Yale’s expertise in creating and monitoring programs to mitigate climate change.

Earlier this month, officials from the Yale Carbon Charge participated in a strategy session at the Connecticut State Capitol with regional legislators interested in developing carbon-pricing policies. The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators organized the March 13 meeting with business leaders, sustainability advocates, legislators, and academics from six Northeastern states.

Yale also will take part in an upcoming symposium at Boston University with representatives from Microsoft. The event, “Reducing Emissions by Pricing Carbon: How Microsoft and Yale are leading the charge,” will look at how private companies and universities such as Yale have gone about creating, testing, and evaluating internal carbon taxes as a way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Yale was the first institution of higher learning to experiment with an internal carbon charge. In 2014, President Peter Salovey outlined six sustainability initiatives, including the creation of a task force to look at the feasibility of an internal carbon charge program. The pilot program began in 2015, with 20 Yale buildings included in a quartet of experiments.

“Climate change isn’t the kind of problem we can rely on other people to solve. There’s a role for all of us to play,” said Casey Pickett, director of the Yale program. “We’re focused on coming up with a useful solution to this problem, testing that solution, and providing the information to the world.”

The world is taking notice. In recent months, Yale has given presentations, hosted visitors, and fielded carbon charge inquiries from dozens of other universities, including Duke, Cornell, Stanford, Penn State, Vassar, Dickinson, Villanova, Swarthmore, Tufts, and Haverford. Yale also is the first university member of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), a private-public partnership among the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, governments, nonprofits, and private sector companies to strengthen carbon-pricing policies by building a network for sharing best practices.

Through CPLC, Yale has led a series of carbon pricing webinars that feature prominent companies, including Microsoft, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Royal DSM.

Carbon charges are receiving renewed political attention, as well. In February, the Climate Leadership Council — a group of veteran Republican officials that includes James A. Baker, George P. Shultz, and Henry Paulson — proposed instituting a carbon tax in exchange for rolling back some current climate change regulations.

“Carbon pricing is gaining national attention again,” Pickett said. “Yale’s experiment is increasingly relevant to companies, to other universities, and to governments.”

Yale’s carbon charge program applies a $40 charge per ton of CO2. The Yale program uses a market-based, fee-and-dividend model, which experts say is most likely to be the approach used by governments in the United States.

Pickett noted that Yale’s experience with an internal carbon charge can be shared more easily than a private company’s data, because there are no proprietary issues involved.

“We can be a living laboratory,” Pickett said. “Our applied research can help clear the path for a major policy approach to climate change.”

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