Should marginal abatement costs differ across sectors? The effect of low-carbon capital accumulation
AbstractClimate mitigation is largely done through investments in low-carbon capital that will have long-lasting effects on emissions. In a model that represents explicitly low-carbon capital accumulation, optimal marginal investment costs differ across sectors. They are equal to the value of avoided carbon emissions over time, minus the value of the forgone option to invest later. It is therefore misleading to assess the cost-efficiency of investments in low-carbon capital by comparing levelized abatement costs, measured as the ratio of investment costs to discounted abatement. The equimarginal principle applies to an accounting value: the Marginal Implicit Rental Cost of the Capital (MIRCC) used to abate. Two apparently opposite views are reconciled. On the one hand, higher efforts are justified in sectors that will take longer to decarbonize, such as transport and urban planning; on the other hand, the MIRCC should be equal to the carbon price at each point in time and in all sectors. Equalizing the MIRCC in each sector to the social cost of carbon is a necessary condition to reach the optimal pathway, but it is not a sufficient condition. Decentralized optimal investment decisions at the sector level require not only the information contained in the carbon price signal, but also knowledge of the date when the sector reaches its full abatement potential.
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