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Campus professors help develop federal project on carbon scoring

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The Office of Carbon Scoring aims to inform legislators with models about the potential effects of legislation on the climate.


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MARCH 19, 2023

The federal Office of Carbon Scoring, or OCS, is in its earliest stage of construction.

Meredith Fowlie, a professor at UC Berkeley’s department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and James Stock, vice provost for climate and sustainability at Harvard University and the director of the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability, are joined by modelers from the industry and a steering committee composed of academics, Stock said.

Fowlie added that the task force is supported by the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institute, a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. that aims to resolve global problems.

“Carbon scoring is the idea of taking carbon footprint into the realm of policy decisions and trying to calculate what the impact of policy will be in terms of how much non-renewable carbon it will ultimately release into the atmosphere over the lifetime of the policy,” said Peter Hernes, a professor of hydrology at UC Davis, in an email.

According to Hernes, a carbon footprint indicates the relationship between a certain action or object and the energy obtained from fossil fuels in the process.

Carbon dioxide plays a very important role in climate change, he added. As an expert in carbon cycling, Hernes considers carbon scoring a “good step.”

“Our task force is investigating whether there is a role for and what would be necessary to set up an office of carbon scoring at the US government level,” Stock said. “It’s heavily focused on modeling. It’s also focused on the institutional design questions.”

The OCS will put three sets of questions into emphasis, he added. These include: the search for the set of existing models, the new modeling capacity needed for the OCS and the entity’s integration into the existing structure of the congressional budget office and executive branch agencies.

According to Fowlie, the models vary in assumptions and their focused sectors and therefore generate different future emission trajectories for a given policy.

“There is value in developing a transparent, consistent and high-quality set of tools that can be used to evaluate the tradeoffs between different climate interventions,” Fowlie said. “In principle, a centralized climate scoring system housed within the federal government could provide lawmakers with non-partisan estimates of the climate impacts of proposed legislation before they vote.”

Fowlie claimed that several principles will guide this scoring system: The managing entity must be nonpartisan, independent and apolitical and the system must be intuitively understood by the public.

The OCS will provide a framework for the federal government to create the scoring system when they are ready to implement it, according to Stock.

Stock also noted the necessity of the OCS in response to the recent climate and energy legislation.

“The ability to do careful analysis of (the legislations) in real time is incredibly important in terms of providing feedback to legislators as they’re crafting the legislation,” Stock said.

Contact Jingxing Wang at 


MARCH 19, 2023