Priority for the worse-off and the social cost of carbon

Matthew Adler, David Anthoff, Valentina Bosetti, Greg Garner, Klaus Keller, Nicolas Treich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a key tool in climate policy. The SCC expresses in monetary terms the social impact of the emission of a ton of CO2 in a given year. The SCC is calculated using a 'social welfare function'(SWF): a method for assessing social welfare. The dominant SWF in climate policy is the discounted-utilitarian SWF. Individuals'well-being numbers (utilities) are summed, and the values for later generations are reduced ('discounted'). This SWF has been criticized for ignoring the distribution of well-being and including an arbitrary time preference. Here, we use a 'prioritarian'SWF, with no time discount, to calculate the SCC. This SWF gives extra weight ('priority') to worse-off individuals. Prioritarianism is a well-developed concept in ethics and welfare economics, but has been rarely used in climate scholarship. We find substantial differences between the discounted-utilitarian and non-discounted prioritarian SCCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-449
Number of pages7
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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