Putting a Price on Carbon: A Primer for University Leaders

The purpose of this primer is to bring higher education leaders up to speed on carbon pricing as a useful tool for addressing the challenge of climate change at the university and societal level. Not only can carbon pricing be used to achieve campus carbon reduction goals, but it can also be an opportunity to demonstrate subnational leadership towards achieving the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement – limiting the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.  

Even as university leaders and the rest of the world continue to grapple with the fallout of another devastating global crisis – the coronavirus pandemic – there is hope to be found in the power of collective, coordinated responses and the ability of science-driven policy tools to affect meaningful change. In fact, as put forward in The Economist, “There may never have been a time when carbon prices could achieve so much so quickly” (2020).

This primer covers a brief rationale for carbon pricing, along with a summary of common approaches and definitions required to anchor university leaders in consistent, fundamental principles. Importantly, this primer also highlights several examples of what university leaders are already doing to help put a price on carbon, with notes on several additional considerations for doing so in an economically and socially responsible way.