The Economics of Decarbonizing Industrial Production
The ongoing drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both developed and developing countries has focused on key sectors, such as transportation and electricity generation, with significant carbon footprints. Less attention has been directed to industrial processes, such as the production of concrete and steel, that involve substantial emissions of CO2 and other potential contributors to global warming. To promote research on the prospects for decarbonizing industrial production, and on the role of technological innovation and economic incentives in this process, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, will convene a research conference in Cambridge, MA, on September 21-22, 2023. This conference will be organized by Lint Barrage (ETH-Zurich) and Kenneth Gillingham (Yale University and NBER).
The organizers welcome research contributions that assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with various industrial process, the costs of shifting to different technologies in specific sectors, current and prospective incentives for innovation and the choice of technique in industrial production processes, as well as broader perspectives on the efficiency and distributional implications of competing policy options for addressing industrial carbon emissions.
Research topics that are within scope include, but are not limited to:
- What are the costs of reducing GHG emissions in key industries such as concrete, fertilizer production, and steel?
- In what ways could private or government-supported R&D affect the level of carbon intensity in various industries? How could economic incentives alter these effects?
- What are the distributional economic and environmental justice implications of decarbonizing the industrial sector? How would different decarbonization strategies affect outcomes such as local air pollution, employment, and income prospects across space and groups?
- How would taxes on intermediate goods and/or final goods, or carbon taxes of various types, affect incentives for process change or innovation in industrial production? What are the effects of other policy instruments, such as emissions standards, on process change? What would the incidence of different policies be on firms in different industries and on households in different sub-groups of the population?
- What are the implications of alternative methods for integrating industrial decarbonization incentives with pre-existing climate policies such as emissions trading schemes? What trade-offs exist in addressing concerns about trade/competitiveness, emissions leakage, political economy, and dynamic efficiency?
- What are the long-run greenhouse gas and economic efficiency implications of different pathways – such as electrification versus reliance on hydrogen – to industrial decarbonization? Are there path-dependencies or complementarities due to the nature of the technologies or supply infrastructure?
- How do or could non-climate policies, such as government procurement policies or building codes, affect incentives for industrial decarbonization?
- How do different industrial decarbonization pathways interact with other policy goals such as climate resiliency and energy and supply chain security?
- What would the effects be from pairing carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) with current or new industrial production technologies to reduce net carbon emissions? What policies or technology improvements could affect markets for CO2 utilization, and what would their net long-run effects be?
The organizers welcome finished papers as well as early-stage papers and detailed proposals that could be completed by the September, 2023 conference. Papers should not be accepted and scheduled for publication by that time. Theoretical as well as empirical research projects are welcome. Submissions are encouraged from researchers with and without NBER affiliations, from academia, government, or the private sector, from early career scholars, and from researchers from under-represented groups.
The NBER will provide a modest honorarium to the authors of papers that are selected for presentation and will cover hotel and economy-class conference travel for up to two authors per paper to participate in the research conference. If there is sufficient interest among the authors of papers that are selected for presentation, the papers included on the program could be considered for a journal special issue or an NBER conference proceedings volume. To be considered for inclusion on the conference program, papers, or proposals for papers, must be submitted by submitted by 11:59pm ET on November 30, 2022. Submissions should be uploaded to:
All submissions must include a conflict of interest statement indicating whether any members of the research team have ties to the energy industry or to any of the industries that might be impacted by industrial decarbonization. Authors of selected papers will be notified in January, 2023. They will also be asked to participate in a virtual pre-conference discussion to identify areas of overlap between projects in advance of the conference; it is tentatively scheduled for May 19, 2023.
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