Policy ForumENERGY

Sustainable minerals and metals for a low-carbon future

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Science  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6473, pp. 30-33
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz6003

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  • Attaining Sustainable Minerals Efficiently
    • Yinyin Cai, Institute of Atmospheric Environmental Economics, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, Nanjing 210044, China.
    • Other Contributors:
      • Yew-Kwang Ng, Special Chair Professor, School of Economics, Fudan University, Shanghai 200433, China.

    Sovacool et al. discusses important issues and makes several recommendations for sustainable minerals for a low-carbon future (1). This letter supplements that discussion.
    Sovacool et al. correctly notes that the environmental and social costs of the mining of minerals and metals needed for low-carbon devices also have to be taken into account.To tackle such problems of external costs and public bads, economists have a simple solution: Tax the emission/pollution at the (marginal) costs it imposes. These costs may be difficult to estimate, especially if we take into account effects in the future, as are true for most effects of global warming. However, it has been shown that, where this is the case, it is usually efficient to tax the pollution at the (marginal) costs of reducing it (such as growing more trees to reduce CO2)(2).
    In addition to the above basic point, it is also efficient to tax all (substantial) external costs where they occur, whether at the production or consumption stage, provided the administrative costs of taxation are negligible or similar. However, where consumers are scattered and more costly to enforce/collect taxes, it may be sensible to enforce extended producer responsibility to save administrative costs. The desirability of doing so depends on specific cases. When the end users/consumers have the option to reduce damages at much lower costs, like disposing of some hazardous items correctly, it may be more efficient to let them have t...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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