Equity implications of net-zero emissions: A multi-model analysis of energy expenditures across income classes under economy-wide deep decarbonization policies

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With companies, states, and countries targeting net-zero emissions around midcentury, there are questions about how these targets alter household welfare and finances, including distributional effects across income groups. This paper examines the distributional dimensions of technology transitions and net-zero policies with a focus on welfare impacts across household incomes. The analysis uses a model intercomparison with a range of energyeconomy models using harmonized policy scenarios reaching economy-wide, net-zero CO2 emissions across the United States in 2050. We employ a novel linking approach that connects output from detailed energy system models with survey microdata on energy expenditures across income classes to provide distributional analysis of net-zero policies. Although there are differences in model structure and input assumptions, we find broad agreement in qualitative trends in policy incidence and energy burdens across income groups. Models generally agree that direct energy expenditures for many households will likely decline over time with reference and netzero policies. However, there is variation in the extent of changes relative to current levels, energy burdens relative to reference levels, and electricity expenditures. Policy design, primarily how climate policy revenues are used, has first-order impacts on distributional outcomes. Net-zero policy costs, in both absolute and relative terms, are unevenly distributed across households, and relative increases in energy expenditures are higher for lowest-income households. However, we also find that recycled revenues from climate policies have countervailing effects when rebated on a per-capita basis, offsetting higher energy burdens and potentially even leading to net progressive outcomes. Model results also show carbon Laffer curves, where revenues from net-zero policies increase but then decline with higher stringencies, which can diminish the progressive effects of climate policies. We also illustrate how using annual income deciles for distributional analysis instead of expenditure deciles can overstate the progressivity of emissions policies by overweighting revenue impacts on the lowest-income deciles.
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