By Lauren Hasler on Nov 20, 2009

Economists Weigh in on Climate Change

A new study found that an overwhelming majority of 144 top U.S. economists believe that climate change will have a negative impact on the nation’s economy.

Eighty-four percent of participants in the study conducted by New York University School of Law agreed that greenhouse gas emissions pose a significant risk to U.S. and global economies.

Eighty percent of economists favored the auctioning of emissions allowances, while the other 9 percent believed the government should distribute them freely. Current climate change legislation will begin by distributing allowances and then slowly moving toward an auction system. Photo: Flickr/NightRPStar

Eighty percent of economists favored the auctioning of emissions allowances, while 9 percent believed the government should distribute them freely. Photo: Flickr/NightRPStar

Tony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri, said he was surprised by the study. “I didn’t realize that all of these economists are basing their opinions on human-induced climate change.”

With varying opinions on the economic costs of current climate change legislation, some assume economists would be opposed to climate change policy. However, the findings of the study prove that most economists believe the benefits of limiting carbon emissions will greatly outweigh the costs.

Ninety-two percent of respondents preferred market-based methods such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade setup, with near unanimous agreement (97.9 percent) that “placing a price” on carbon will encourage innovation and energy-efficiency in the country.

Lupo is skeptical if the proposed climate change legislation will really be as beneficial as the responses to this study suggest.

“To spur advances in alternatives, we should provide incentives for companies in the form of tax breaks and grants rather than rationing or taxing. Limiting the amount of energy may spur innovation, but it is going to cost consumers in the long run,” he said.

But no matter the method, 94.3 percent of the economists believe the U.S. should agree to an international climate treaty with the promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said it should be done regardless of the actions of other countries.

Current climate change legislation will begin by distributing allowances and then slowly moving toward an auction system.

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