BIOMES: Catherine Wolfram, Visiting Raymond Plank Professor, Harvard Kennedy School, on leave from UC Berkeley, presents: 'What Can Economists Contribute to Climate Policy?'

by YSE Office of the Dean

Lecture, Talk, or Panel BIOMES YSE Alumni YSE Faculty/Staff YSE Students

Wed, Apr 12, 2023

12 PM – 1 PM EDT (GMT-4)

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This BIOMES Seminar is co-sponsored by the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture.

Seminar Abstract: 
The Biden Administration broke new ground on climate and energy policy in its first two years, passing the Inflation Reduction Act as well as other major legislation with important climate provisions and imposing novel sanctions on Russia, the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporter. President Biden himself described the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act as “the most aggressive action ever, ever, ever to confront the climate crisis.” In this talk, I will describe my experience as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate and Energy Economics at Treasury in the first 20 months of the Biden Administration. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Treasury was ground zero for many of the important energy and environmental policy developments.

At the same time, some commentators have raised questions about the role of economists in solving important problems, including climate change. For example, after IRA passed, climate scientist Bob Kopp commented on Twitter that, “Environmental economists should probably take a moment of humble reflection to ask whether the discipline’s focus on first-best carbon pricing mechanism contributed to how long it has taken to get US climate legislation.” Beyond climate policy, economists have been criticized for downplaying the perils of globalization, not preventing the financial crisis and other missteps. For example, a former chief of staff to Senator Warren was quoted as saying, “the Obama economic team focused too much on trying to placate elites and too little on trying to understand the economic pain and anger coursing through the country, and that combination helped fuel right-wing populism.”

I will draw on my experience in government and as an academic economist to comment on how much economists might be to blame; steps economists can take to improve their relevance; and lessons that I think economists uniquely bring to public policy discussions.

About the Series:
Over the last twelve years, the Yale School of the Environment has held a weekly seminar series, called BIOMES, which has been the School’s flagship forum for bringing cutting-edge research and impactful work to the community.
BIOMES stands for ‘Bridging Issues & Optimizing Methods in Environmental Studies”

The series is a community-sourced and student-led effort designed to bring different perspectives to YSE’s main stage. During the spring 2023 semester, the committee has chosen to feature cross-campus voices among the faculty to highlight the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary approaches occurring at Yale on topics related to the environment.

Food Provided (Food is provided for in-person attendees only. )



Catherine Wolfram's profile photo

Catherine Wolfram

Visiting Raymond Plank Professor

Harvard Kennedy School

Catherine Wolfram is a Visiting Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, on leave from UC Berkeley.

ÔÇïFrom March 2021 to October 2022, she served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate and Energy Economics at the U.S. Treasury.


ÔÇïAt UC Berkeley, she is the Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration. From 2019 to 2021, she served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Haas School of Business.  


ÔÇïBefore leaving for government services, she was the Program Director of the National Bureau of Economic Research's Environment and Energy Economics Program, Faculty Director of The E2e Project, a research organization focused on energy efficiency and a research affiliate at the Energy Institute at Haas. She was also an affiliated faculty member of in the Agriculture and Resource Economics department and the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley.


Wolfram has published extensively on the economics of energy markets. Her work has analyzed rural electrification programs in the developing world, energy efficiency programs in the US, the effects of environmental regulation on energy markets and the impact of privatization and restructuring in the US and UK. She is currently implementing several randomized controlled trials to evaluate energy programs in the U.S., Ghana, and Kenya.

She received a PhD in Economics from MIT in 1996 and an AB from Harvard in 1989. Before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley, she was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard.


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YSE Office of the Dean | Website | View More Events
Co-hosted with: Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture

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