Economic analysis of climate change

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This graph shows estimation confidence intervals from a meta-analysis of researchers as well as by the Stern Review in 2006 (damage costs measured as percent GDP).

The economic analysis of climate change explains how economic thinking, tools and techniques are applied to calculate the magnitude and distribution of damage caused by climate change. It also informs the policies and approaches for mitigation and adaptation to climate change from global to household scales. This topic is also inclusive of alternative economic approaches, including ecological economics and degrowth. In a cost–benefit analysis, the trade offs between climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation are made explicit. Cost–benefit analyses of climate change are produced using integrated assessment models (IAMs), which incorporate aspects of the natural, social, and economic sciences. The total economic impacts from climate change are difficult to estimate, but increase for higher temperature changes.[1]

Climate change impacts can be measured as an economic cost.[2]: 936–941  This is particularly well-suited to market impacts, that is impacts that are linked to market transactions and directly affect GDP. However, monetary measures of non-market impacts, e.g., impacts on human health and ecosystems, are more difficult to calculate. Economic analysis of climate change is challenging as it is a long-term problem and has substantial distributional issues within and across countries. Furthermore, it engages with uncertainty about the physical damages of climate changes, human responses, and future socioeconomic development.

In most models, benefits exceed costs for stabilization of GHGs leading to warming of 2.5 °C. No models suggest that the optimal policy is to do nothing, i.e., allow "business-as-usual" emissions.

Sub-topics within the economic analysis concept are the economic impacts of climate change, as well as the economics of climate change mitigation. Climate change mitigation consist of human actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to enhance carbon sinks that absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.[3]: 2239 

Purposes[edit]

Economic analysis of climate change is an umbrella term for a range of investigations into the economic costs around the effects of climate change, and for preventing or softening those effects. These investigations can serve any of the following purposes:[4]: 2495 

  • estimating the potential global aggregate economic costs of climate change (i.e. global climate damages)
  • estimating sectoral or regional economic costs of climate change (e.g. costs to agriculture sector or energy services)
  • estimating economic costs of facilitating and implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies (varying with the objectives and the levels of action required)
  • monetising the projected impacts to society per additional metric tonne of carbon emissions (social cost of carbon)
  • informing decisions about global climate management strategy (through UN institutions) or policy decisions in some countries

The economic impacts of climate change also include any mitigation (for example, limiting the global average temperature below 2 °C) or adaption (for example, building flood defences) employed by nations or groups of nations, which might infer economic consequences.[5][6][7] They also take into account that some regions or sectors benefit from low levels of warming, for example through lower energy demand or agricultural advantages in some markets.[4]: 2496 [8]: 11 

There are wider policy (and policy coherence) considerations of interest. For example, in some areas, policies designed to mitigate climate change may contribute positively towards other sustainable development objectives, such as abolishing fossil fuel subsidies which would reduce air pollution and thus save lives.[9][10][11] Direct global fossil fuel subsidies reached $319 billion in 2017, and $5.2 trillion when indirect costs such as air pollution are priced in.[12] In other areas, the cost of climate change mitigation may divert resources away from other socially and environmentally beneficial investments (the opportunity costs of climate change policy).[9][10]

Global aggregate economic costs[edit]

Global aggregate costs adds up the total potential impacts of climate change in all market sectors (e.g. the costs to agriculture, energy services or tourism). It also includes other non-market impacts (e.g. on ecosystems and human health) for which it is possible to assign monetary values.[4]: 2495 

Global estimates are often based on an aggregation of independent sector and/or regional studies and results. Producing comprehensive global economic estimates is however very challenging. The interactions that need to be modelled are very complex. For example, there is uncertainty in how physical and natural systems may respond to climate change. Potential socioeconomic changes, including how human societies might mitigate and adapt to climate change also need to be considered.[4]: 2496  The uncertainty and complexities associated with climate change and have led analysts to develop "scenarios" though which they can explore different possibilities.

Global economic losses due to extreme weather, climate and water events are increasing. Costs have increased sevenfold from the 1970s to the 2010s.[13]: 16  Direct losses from disasters have averaged above US$330 billion annually between 2015 and 2021.[14]: 21  Climate change has contributed to the increased probability and magnitude of extreme events. When a vulnerable community is exposed to extreme climate or weather events, disasters can occur. Socio-economic factors have contributed to the observed trend of global disaster losses, such as population growth and increased wealth.[15] This shows that increased exposure is the most important driver of losses. However, part of these are also due to human-induced climate change. Extreme Event Attribution quantifies how climate change is altering the probability and magnitude of extreme events. On a case-by-case basis, it is feasible to estimate how the magnitude and/or probability of the extreme event has shifted due to climate change. These attributable changes have been identified for many individual extreme heat events and rainfall events.[16]: 1611 [17] Using all available data on attributable changes, one study estimated the global losses to average US$143 billion per year between 2000 and 2019. This includes a statistical loss of life value of 90 billion and economic damages of 53 billion per year.[17]

Estimates of the economic impacts from climate change in future years are most often measured as percent global GDP change, relative to GDP without additional climate change.[4]: 2495  The 2022 IPCC report compared the latest estimates of many modelling and meta-analysis studies. It found wide variety in the results. These vary depending on the assumptions used in the IPCC socioeconomic scenarios. The same set of scenarios are used in all of the climate models.

Estimates are found to increase with global average temperature change. The increase is non-linear. Global temperature change projection ranges (corresponding to each cost estimate) are based on IPCC assessment on the physical science in the same report. It finds that with high warming (~4°C) and low adaptation, annual global GDP might be reduced by 10–23% by 2100 because of climate change. The same assessment finds smaller GDP changes with reductions of 1–8%, assuming assuming low warming, more adaptation, and using different models.[4]: 2459  These global economic cost estimates do not take into account impacts on social well-being or welfare or distributional effects.[4]: 2495  Nor do they fully consider climate change adaptation responses.

Other studies investigate economic losses by GDP change per country or by per country per capita. Findings show large differences among countries and within countries. The estimated GDP changes in some developing countries are similar to some of the worst country-level losses during historical economic recessions.[4]: 2459  Economic losses are risks to living standards, which are more likely to be severe in developing countries. Climate change can push more people into extreme poverty or keep people poor, especially through particularly climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries. Climate change may also increase income inequality within countries as well as between them, particularly affecting low-income groups.[4]: 2461 

In 2017, climate change contributed to extreme weather events causing at least $100 billion in damages.[18] The impact can be seen over a longer time period, where "over the past 20 years, an estimated 500,000 people have died and US$3.5 trillion was lost as a result of extreme weather events".[5] Increasing temperature will lead to accelerating economic losses.[19]: 16  A 2017 survey of independent economists looking at the effects of climate change found that future damage estimates range "from 2% to 10% or more of global GDP per year."[20]

One 2018 study found that potential global economic gains if countries implement mitigation strategies to comply with the 2 °C target set at the Paris Agreement are in the vicinity of US$17 trillion per year up to 2100, compared to a very high emission scenario.[21]

One 2020 study estimated economic losses due to climate change could be between 127 and 616 trillion dollars extra until 2100 with current commitments, compared to 1.5 °C or well below 2 °C compatible action action. Failure to implement current commitments raises economic losses to 150–792 trillion dollars until 2100. In this study, mitigation was achieved by countries optimising their own economy.[22]

In 2020 McKinsey & Company issued a report about the current and future impacts of climate change on the economy. The report says that trillions of dollars and hundreds of millions of lives are at risk. Climate change should strongly influence the decisions of the business and governmental leaders.[23] The report, for example, found that socioeconomic impacts can increase by 2–20 times compare to today level by 2050.[24]

The total economic impacts from climate change increase for higher temperature changes.[1] For instance, total damages are estimated to be 90% less if global warming is limited to 1.5 °C compared to 3.66 °C, a warming level chosen to represent no mitigation.[25] In an Oxford Economics study high emission scenario, a temperature rise of 2 degrees by the year 2050 would reduce global GDP by 2.5–7.5%. By the year 2100 in this case, the temperature would rise by 4 degrees, which could reduce the global GDP by 30% in the worst case.[26]

A 2021 study by the reinsurance company Swiss Re estimated global climate change is likely to reduce global economic output by 11–14%, or as much as $23 trillion annually by 2050, compared with output without climate change. According to this study, the economies of wealthy countries like the US would likely shrink by approximately 7%, while some developing nations would be devastated, losing around 20% or in some cases 40% of their economic output.[27]

Sectoral or regional economic costs[edit]

The distribution of warming impacts from emitters has been unequal, with high-income, high-emitting countries benefitting while harming low-income, low-emitting countries.[28]

Impacts by sector[edit]

A number of economic sectors will be affected by climate change, including the livestock, forestry, and fisheries industries. Other sectors sensitive to climate change include the energy, insurance, tourism and recreation industries.[29]: 2496 

Health and productivity[edit]

Among the health impacts that have been studied, aggregate costs of heat stress (through loss of work time) have been estimated, as have the costs of malnutrition.[30]: 1074–5  However, it is usual for studies to aggregate the number of 'years of life lost' adjusted for years living with disability to measure effects on health.[31]: 1060 

In 2019 the International Labour Organization published a report titled: "Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work", in which it claims that even if the rise in temperature will be limited to 1.5 degree, by the year 2030, Climate Change will cause losses in productivity reaching 2.2% of all the working hours, every year. This is equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs, or 2,400 billion dollars. The sector expected to be most affected is agriculture, which is projected to account for 60% of this loss. The construction sector is also projected to be severely impacted and accounts for 19% of projected losses. Other sectors that are most at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work.[32][33]

It has been estimated that 3.5 million people die prematurely each year from air pollution from fossil fuels.[34] The health benefits of meeting climate goals substantially outweigh the costs of action.[35] The health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels measured in money (estimated by economists using the value of life for each country) are substantially more than the cost of achieving the 2 degree C goal of the Paris Agreement.[36]

The amount by which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced is forecast to substantially affect the number of Winter Olympic Game venues that will have reliably cold conditions.[37]
Projected economic impacts of 2 degrees of global warming on Senegal

Agriculture and infrastructure[edit]

  • In the agriculture sector, there are substantial regional differences,[2]: 938  Poorer countries are more exposed to climatic changes and extreme weather events because of the important role of agriculture and water resources in the economy.[38]
  • With respect to water supply, a literature survey in 2007 predicted that costs would very likely exceed benefits. Predicted costs included the potential need for infrastructure investments to protect against floods and droughts.[39]: 191 
  • It was estimated in 2007 that the economic costs of extreme weather events, at large national or large regional scale, would be unlikely to exceed more than a few percent of the total economy in the year of the event, except for possible abrupt changes.[40]: 377  In smaller locations, particularly developing countries, it was estimated with high confidence that, in the year of the extreme event, short-run damages could amount to more than 25% GDP.
  • Roads, airport runways, railway lines and pipelines, (including oil pipelines, sewers, water mains etc.) may require increased maintenance and renewal as they become subject to greater temperature variation and are exposed to weather that they were not designed for.[41]

Industry[edit]

Carbon-intensive industries and investors are expected to experience a significant increase in stranded assets[42] with a potential ripple affect throughout the world economy.[43][44]

Impacts by region[edit]

A United States government report in November 2018 raised the possibility of US GDP going down 10% as a result of the warming climate, including huge shifts in geography, demographics and technology.[45]

Costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies[edit]

Cost estimates for mitigation measures[edit]

Several factors affect mitigation cost estimates. One is the baseline. This is a reference scenario that the alternative mitigation scenario is compared with. Others are the way costs are modelled, and assumptions about future government policy.[46]: 622  Cost estimates for mitigation for specific regions depend on the quantity of emissions allowed for that region in future, as well as the timing of interventions.[47]: 90 

Mitigation costs will vary according to how and when emissions are cut. Early, well-planned action will minimize the costs.[48] Globally, the benefits of keeping warming under 2 °C exceed the costs.[49]

Economists estimate the cost of climate change mitigation at between 1% and 2% of GDP.[50] Whereas this is a large sum, it is still far less than the subsidies governments provide to the ailing fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund estimated this at more than $5 trillion per year.[51][52]

The economic repercussions of mitigation vary widely across regions and households, depending on policy design and level of international cooperation. Delayed global cooperation increases policy costs across regions, especially in those that are relatively carbon intensive at present. Pathways with uniform carbon values show higher mitigation costs in more carbon-intensive regions, in fossil-fuels exporting regions and in poorer regions. Aggregate quantifications expressed in GDP or monetary terms undervalue the economic effects on households in poorer countries. The actual effects on welfare and well-being are comparatively larger.[53]

Cost–benefit analysis may be unsuitable for analysing climate change mitigation as a whole. But it is still useful for analysing the difference between a 1.5 °C target and 2 °C.[50] One way of estimating the cost of reducing emissions is by considering the likely costs of potential technological and output changes. Policymakers can compare the marginal abatement costs of different methods to assess the cost and amount of possible abatement over time. The marginal abatement costs of the various measures will differ by country, by sector, and over time.[48]

Cost estimates for adaptation measures[edit]

Adaptation costs are the costs of planning, preparing for, facilitating and implementing adaptation.[54]: 31  Adaptation benefits can be estimated in terms of reduced damages from the effects of climate change. In economic terms, the cost to benefit ratio of adaptation shows that each dollar can deliver large benefits. For example, it is estimated that every US$1 billion invested in adaptation against coastal flooding leads to a US$14 billion reduction in economic damages.[54]: 52  Investing in more resilient infrastructure in developing countries would provide an average of $4 in benefit for each $1 invested.[55] In other words, a small percentage increase in investment costs can mitigate the potentially very large disruption to infrastructure costs.

A 2023 study found the overall adaptation costs for all developing countries to be around US$215 billion per year for the period up to 2030. The highest adaptation expenses are for river flood protection, infrastructure and coastal protection. They also found that in most cases, adaptation costs will be significantly higher by 2050.[54]: 35–36 

It is difficult to estimate both the costs of adaptation and the adaptation finance needs. The costs of adaptation varies with the objective and the level of adaptation required and what is acceptable as residual, i.e. 'unmanaged' risk.[54]: 33  Similarly, adaptation finance needs vary depending on the overall adaptation plans for the country, city, or region. It also depends on the assessment methods used. A 2023 study analysed country-level information submitted to the UNFCCC in National Adaptation Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (85 countries). It estimated global adaptation needs of developing countries annual average to be US$387 billion, for the period up to 2030.[54]: 31 

Both the cost estimates and needs estimates have high uncertainty. Adaptation costs are usually derived from economic modelling analysis (global or sectoral models). Adaptation needs are based on programme and project-level costing.[54]: 37  These programmes depend on the high level adaptation instrument – such as a plan, policy or strategy. For many developing countries, the implementation of certain actions specified in the plans is conditional on receiving international support. in these countries, a majority (85%) of finance needs are expected to be met from international public climate finance, i.e. funding from developed to developing countries.[54]: 38  There is less data available for adaptation costs and adaptation finance needs in high income countries. Data show that per capita needs tend to increase with income level, but these countries can also afford to invest more domestically.[54]: 39 

Social cost of carbon[edit]

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is the marginal cost of the impacts caused by emitting one extra tonne of carbon emissions at any point in time.[56] The purpose of putting a price on a ton of emitted CO2 is to aid policymakers or other legislators in evaluating whether a policy designed to curb climate change is justified. The social cost of carbon is a calculation focused on taking corrective measures on climate change which can be deemed a form of market failure.[57] Latest studies calculate costs of more than US$300 per ton of CO2 (/tCO2).[58] The only governments which use the SCC are in North America.[59] Because of politics the SCC is different from a carbon price.[60] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that a carbon price of $100/tCO2 could reduce global GHG emissions by at least half the 2019 level by 2030.[61]

Types[edit]

Various economic tools are employed to understand the economic aspects around impacts of climate change, climate change mitigation and adaptation. Several sets of tools or approaches exist. Econometric models (statistical models) are used to integrate the broad impacts of climate change with other economic drivers, to quantify the economic costs and assess the value of climate-related policies, often for a specific sector or region. Structural economic models look at market and non-market impacts affecting the whole economy through its inputs and outputs. Process models simulate physical, chemical and biological processes under climate change, and the economic effects.[4]: 2495 

Process-based models[edit]

Annual greenhouse gas emissions in the various NGFS climate scenarios 2022, based on the REMIND-MAgPIE model by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research[62]

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has relied on process-based integrated assessment models to quantify mitigation scenarios.[63][64] They have been used to explore different pathways for staying within climate policy targets such as the 1.5 °C target agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.[65] Moreover, these models have underpinned research including energy policy assessment[66] and simulate the Shared socioeconomic pathways.[67][68] Notable modelling frameworks include IMAGE,[69] MESSAGEix,[70] AIM/GCE,[71] GCAM,[72] REMIND-MAgPIE,[73][74] and WITCH-GLOBIOM.[75][76] While these scenarios are highly policy-relevant, interpretation of the scenarios should be done with care.[77]

Non-equilibrium models include[78] those based on econometric equations and evolutionary economics (such as E3ME),[79] and agent-based models (such as the agent-based DSK-model).[80] These models typically do not assume rational and representative agents, nor market equilibrium in the long term.[78]

Structural models[edit]

Computable general equilibrium models

Computable general equilibrium (CGE) models are a class of economic models that use actual economic data to estimate how an economy might react to changes in policy, technology or other external factors. CGE models are also referred to as AGE (applied general equilibrium) models. A CGE model consists of equations describing model variables and a database (usually very detailed) consistent with these model equations. The equations tend to be neoclassical in spirit, often assuming cost-minimizing behaviour by producers, average-cost pricing, and household demands based on optimizing behaviour.

CGE models are useful whenever we wish to estimate the effect of changes in one part of the economy upon the rest. They have been used widely to analyse trade policy. More recently, CGE has been a popular way to estimate the economic effects of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Aggregate cost-benefit models

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are also used make aggregate estimates of the costs of climate change. These (cost-benefit) models balance the economic implications of mitigation and climate damages to identify the pathway of emissions reductions that will maximize total economic welfare.[81] In other words, the trade-offs between climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation are made explicit. The costs of each policy and the outcomes modelled are converted into monetary estimates.

The models incorporate aspects of the natural, social, and economic sciences in a highly aggregated way. Compared to other climate-economy models (including process-based IAMs), they do not have the structural detail necessary to model interactions with energy systems, land-use etc. and their economic implications.[81]

Statistical (econometric) methods[edit]

A more recent modelling approach uses empirical, statistical methods to investigate how the economy is affected by weather variation.[4]: 2495 [82]: 755  This approach can causatively identify effects of temperature, rainfall and other climate variables on agriculture, energy demand, industry and other economic activity. Panel data are used giving weather variation over time and spatial areas, eg. ground station observations or (interpolated) gridded data. These are typically aggregated for economic analysis eg. to investigate effects on national economies.[82] These studies examine temperature and rainfall, and events such as droughts and windstorms. They show that for example, hot years are linked to lower income growth in poor countries, and low rainfall is linked to reduced incomes in Africa.[82]: 755  Other econometric studies show that there are negative impacts of hotter temperatures on agricultural output, and on labour productivity in factories, call centres and in outdoor industries such as mining and forestry. The analyses are used to estimate the costs of climate change in the future.

Analytical frameworks[edit]

Cost–benefit analysis[edit]

Standard cost–benefit analysis (CBA) has been applied to the problem of climate change. In a CBA framework, the costs and benefits of impacts, adaptation and mitigation are converted into monetary estimates. This is also referred to as a monetized cost–benefit framework. Various types of model can provide information for CBA, including energy-economy-environment models (process models) that study energy systems and their transitions. Some of these models may include a physical model of the climate. Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) structural models investigate effects of policies (including climate policies) on economic growth, trade, employment, and public revenues. However, most CBA analyses are produced using aggregate integrated assessment models. These aggregate-type IAMs are particularly designed for doing CBA of climate change.[83]: 428 [84]: 238–239 

The CBA framework requires (1) the valuation of costs and benefits using willingness to pay (WTP) or willingness to accept (WTA) compensation[85][86][87][88] as a measure of value,[89] and (2) a criterion for accepting or rejecting proposals:[89]

For (1), in CBA where WTP/WTA is used, climate change impacts are aggregated into a monetary value,[85] with environmental impacts converted into consumption equivalents,[90] and risk accounted for using certainty equivalents.[90][91] Values over time are then discounted to produce their equivalent present values.[92]

The valuation of costs and benefits of climate change can be controversial[2]: 936–938  because some climate change impacts are difficult to assign a value to, e.g., ecosystems and human health.[93][94] It is also impossible to know the preferences of future generations, which affects the valuation of costs and benefits.[95]: 4  Another difficulty is quantifying the risks of future climate change.[96]

For (2), the standard criterion is the Kaldor–Hicks[95]: 3  compensation principle.[89] According to the compensation principle, so long as those benefiting from a particular project compensate the losers, and there is still something left over, then the result is an unambiguous gain in welfare.[89] If there are no mechanisms allowing compensation to be paid, then it is necessary to assign weights to particular individuals.[89]

One of the mechanisms for compensation is impossible for this problem: mitigation might benefit future generations at the expense of current generations, but there is no way that future generations can compensate current generations for the costs of mitigation.[95]: 4  On the other hand, should future generations bear most of the costs of climate change, compensation to them would not be possible.[97] Another transfer for compensation exists between regions and populations. If, for example, some countries were to benefit from reducing climate change but others lose out, there would be no guarantee that the winners would compensate the losers.[97]

Some view the monetization of costs and benefits as controversial. The "optimal" levels of mitigation and adaptation are then resolved by comparing the marginal costs of action with the marginal benefits of avoided climate change damages.[98]: 654  The decision over what "optimal" is depends on subjective value judgements made by the author of the study.[99] In spite of various uncertainties or possible criticisms of cost–benefit analysis, it does have several strengths: It offers an internally consistent and global comprehensive analysis of impacts.[2]: 955  Furthermore, sensitivity analysis allows critical assumptions in the analysis to be changed. This can identify areas where the value of information is highest and where additional research might have the highest payoffs.[100]: 119 

The distribution of benefits from adaptation and mitigation policies are different in terms of damages avoided.[98]: 653 [better source needed] Adaptation activities mainly benefit those who implement them, while mitigation benefits others who may not have made mitigation investments. Mitigation can therefore be viewed as a global public good, while adaptation is either a private good in the case of autonomous adaptation, or a national or regional public good in the case of public sector policies.

A common finding of cost–benefit analysis is that the optimum level of emissions reduction is modest in the near-term, with more stringent abatement in the longer-term.[101]: 298 [102]: 20 [103][better source needed] This approach might lead to a warming of more than 3 °C above the pre-industrial level.[104]: 8 [better source needed] There are many uncertainties that affect cost–benefit analysis, for example, sector- and country-specific damage functions.[98]: 654 

Cost-effectiveness analysis[edit]

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis (CEA) is preferable to CBA when the benefits of impacts, adaptation and mitigation are difficult to estimate in monetary terms. A CEA can be used to compare different policy options for achieving a well-defined goal.[84]: 238  This goal (i.e. the benefit) is usually expressed as the amount of GHG emissions reduction in the analysis of mitigation measures. For adaptation measures, there is no single common goal or metric for the economic benefits. Adaptation involves responding to different types of risks in different sectors and local contexts. For example, the goal might be the reduction of land area in hectares at risk to sea level rise.[105]: 2 

CEA involves the costing of each option, and providing a cost per unit of effectiveness. For example, cost per tonne of GHG reduced ($/tCO2). This allows the ranking of policy options. This ranking can help decision-maker to understand which are the most cost-effective options, i.e. those that deliver high benefits for low costs. CEA can be used for minimising net costs for achieving pre-defined policy targets, such as meeting an emissions reduction target for a given sector.[84]: 238 [105]: 2–3 

CEA, like CBA, is a type of decision analysis method. Decision analysis requires a selection criterion to be specified as well as agreement on how "optimal" is defined. In a decision analysis based on monetized cost–benefit analysis (CBA), the optimal policy is evaluated in economic terms. The optimal result of monetized CBA maximizes net benefits. Monetized CBA may be used to decide on the policy objective, e.g., how much emissions should be allowed to grow over time. The benefits of emissions reductions are included as part of the assessment.[106] Unlike in CBA, CEA does not suggest an optimal climate policy. For example, CEA may be used to determine how to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at lowest cost. However, the actual choice of stabilization target (e.g., 450 or 550 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent), is not "decided" in the analysis.

The choice of selection criterion for decision analysis is subjective.[106] The choice of criterion is made outside of the analysis (it is exogenous). One of the influences on this choice on this is attitude to risk. Risk aversion describes how willing or unwilling someone is to take risks. Evidence indicates that most, but not all, individuals[clarification needed] prefer certain outcomes to uncertain ones. Risk-averse individuals prefer decision criteria that reduce the chance of the worst possible outcome, while risk-seeking individuals prefer decision criteria that maximize the chance of the best possible outcome. In terms of returns on investment, if society as a whole is risk-averse, we might be willing to accept some investments with negative expected returns, e.g., in mitigation.[107] Such investments may help to reduce the possibility of future climate damages or the costs of adaptation.

Alternatives to conventional economic analysis[edit]

There is considerable uncertainty over decisions regarding climate change, as well as different attitudes over how to proceed, e.g., attitudes to risk and valuation of climate change impacts. Risk management can be used to evaluate policy decisions based a range of criteria or viewpoints, and is not restricted to the results of particular type of analysis, e.g., monetized CBA.[108]: 42 

Some authors have focused on a disaggregated analysis of climate change impacts.[109]: 23 [110] "Disaggregated" refers to the choice to assess impacts in a variety of indicators or units, e.g., changes in agricultural yields and loss of biodiversity. By contrast, monetized CBA converts all impacts into a common unit (money), which is used to assess changes in social welfare.

Scaling the effect of wealth to the national level: richer (developed) countries emit more CO2 per person than poorer (developing) countries.[111] Emissions are roughly proportional to GDP per person, though the rate of increase diminishes with average GDPs/pp of about $10,000.

Investigating climate change scenarios[edit]

The long time scales and uncertainty associated with global warming have led analysts to develop "scenarios" of future environmental, social and economic changes.[112] These scenarios can help governments understand the potential consequences of their decisions.

The projected temperature in climate change scenarios is subject to scientific uncertainty (e.g., the relationship between concentrations of GHGs and global mean temperature, which is called the climate sensitivity). Projections of future atmospheric concentrations based on emission pathways are also affected by scientific uncertainties, e.g., over how carbon sinks, such as forests, will be affected by future climate change.

One of the economic aspects of climate change is producing scenarios of future economic development. Future economic developments can, for example, affect how vulnerable society is to future climate change,[113] what the future impacts of climate change might be, as well as the level of future GHG emissions.[114]

In scenario analysis, scenarios are developed that are based on differing assumptions of future development patterns.[112] An example of this are the shared socioeconomic pathways produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These project a wide range of possible future emissions levels.

Some analysts have developed scenarios that project a continuation of current policies into the future. These scenarios are sometimes called "business-as-usual" scenarios.[115]: 176 

Experts who work on scenarios tend to prefer the term "projections" to "forecasts" or "predictions".[116] This distinction is made to emphasize the point that probabilities are not assigned to the scenarios,[116] and that future emissions depend on decisions made both now and into the future.[117]: 75 

Climate risks[edit]

Another approach is that of uncertainty analysis,[112] where analysts attempt to estimate the probability of future changes in emission levels.

In a cost–benefit analysis, an acceptable risk means that the benefits of a climate policy outweigh the costs of the policy.[96] The standard rule used by public and private decision makers is that a risk will be acceptable if the expected net present value is positive.[96] The expected value is the mean of the distribution of expected outcomes.[118]: 25  In other words, it is the average expected outcome for a particular decision. This criterion has been justified on the basis that:

On the second point, it has been suggested that insurance could be bought against climate change risks.[96] Policymakers and investors are beginning to recognize the implications of climate change for the financial sector, from both physical risks (damage to property, infrastructure, and land) and transition risk due to changes in policy, technology, and consumer and market behavior. Financial institutions are becoming increasingly aware of the need to incorporate the economics of low carbon emissions into business models.[119]

In the scientific literature, there is sometimes a focus on "best estimate" or "likely" values of climate sensitivity.[120] However, from a risk management perspective, values outside of "likely" ranges are relevant, because, though these values are less probable, they could be associated with more severe climate impacts[121] (the statistical definition of risk = probability of an impact × magnitude of the impact).[122]: 208 

Analysts have also looked at how uncertainty over climate sensitivity affects economic estimates of climate change impacts.[123] Policy guidance from cost-benefit analysis (CBA) can be extremely divergent depending on the assumptions employed.[124] Hassler et al use integrated assessment modeling to examine a range of estimates and what happens at extremes.[125]

Two related ways of thinking about the problem of climate change decision-making in the presence of uncertainty are iterative risk management[126][122] and sequential decision making.[127]: 612–614  Considerations in a risk-based approach might include, for example, the potential for low-probability, worst-case climate change impacts.[128]

Sequential decision making[edit]

refer to caption
Granger Morgan et al. (2009)[129] recommend that an appropriate response to deep uncertainty is to adopt an iterative and adaptive decision-making strategy. This contrasts with a strategy in which no action is taken until research resolves all key uncertainties.

One of the responses to the uncertainties of global warming is to adopt a strategy of sequential decision making.[130] Sequential decision making refers to the process in which the decision maker makes consecutive observations of the process before making a final decision.[131] This strategy recognizes that decisions on global warming need to be made with incomplete information, and that decisions in the near term will have potentially long-term impacts. Governments may use risk management as part of their policy response to global warming.[132][122]: 203 

An approach based on sequential decision making recognizes that, over time, decisions related to climate change can be revised in the light of improved information.[130] This is particularly important with respect to climate change, due to the long-term nature of the problem. A near-term hedging strategy concerned with reducing future climate impacts might favor stringent, near-term emissions reductions.[127] As stated earlier, carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, and to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of CO2, emissions would need to be drastically reduced from their present level.[133] Stringent near-term emissions reductions allow for greater future flexibility with regard to a low stabilization target, e.g., 450 parts per million (ppm) CO2. To put it differently, stringent near-term emissions abatement can be seen as having an option value in allowing for lower, long-term stabilization targets. This option may be lost if near-term emissions abatement is less stringent.[134]

On the other hand, a view may be taken that points to the benefits of improved information over time. This may suggest an approach where near-term emissions abatement is more modest.[135] Another way of viewing the problem is to look at the potential irreversibility of future climate change impacts (e.g., damages to biomes and ecosystems) against the irreversibility of making investments in efforts to reduce emissions.[130]

Resilient and adaptive strategies[edit]

Granger Morgan et al. (2009)[129] suggested two related decision-making management strategies that might be particularly appealing when faced with high uncertainty. The first were resilient strategies. This seeks to identify a range of possible future circumstances, and then choose approaches that work reasonably well across all the range. The second were adaptive strategies. The idea here is to choose strategies that can be improved as more is learned as the future progresses. Granger Morgan contrasted these two approaches with the cost–benefit approach, which seeks to find an optimal strategy.[129]

Portfolio theory[edit]

An example of a strategy that is based on risk is portfolio theory. This suggests that a reasonable response to uncertainty is to have a wide portfolio of possible responses. In the case of climate change, mitigation can be viewed as an effort to reduce the chance of climate change impacts.[118]: 24  Adaptation acts as insurance against the chance that unfavourable impacts occur.[136] The risk associated with these impacts can also be spread.[clarification needed] As part of a policy portfolio, climate research can help when making future decisions. Technology research can help to lower future costs.

Sensitivity analysis[edit]

Sensitivity analysis allows assumptions to be changed in aggregate analysis to see what effect it has on results (Smith et al., 2001:943):[2]

  • Shape of the damage function: This relates impacts to the change in atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. There is little information on what the correct shape (e.g., linear or cubic) of this function is. Compared with a linear function, a cubic function shows relatively small damages for small increases in temperature, but more sharply increasing damages at greater temperatures.
  • Rate of climate change: This is believed to be an important determinant of impacts, often because it affects the time available for adaptation.
  • Discount rate and time horizon: Models used in aggregate studies suggest that the most severe impacts of climate change will occur in the future. Estimated impacts are therefore sensitive to the time horizon (how far a given study projects impacts into the future) and the discount rate (the value assigned to consumption in the future versus consumption today).
  • Welfare criteria: Aggregate analysis is particularly sensitive to the weighting (i.e., relative importance) of impacts occurring in different regions and at different times. Studies by Fankhauser et al. (1997) and Azar (1999) found that greater concern over the distribution of impacts lead to more severe predictions of aggregate impacts.
  • Uncertainty: Usually assessed through sensitivity analysis, but can also be viewed as a hedging problem. EMF (1997) found that deciding how to hedge depends on society's aversion to climate change risks, and the potential costs of insuring against these risks.

Paying for an international public good[edit]

Some early studies suggested that a uniform carbon tax would be a fair and efficient way of reducing emissions.[137]: 103–104  A carbon tax is a Pigouvian tax, and taxes fuels based on their carbon content.[138]: 92  An alternative approach to having a Pigouvian tax is one based on property rights. A practical example of this would be a system of emissions trading, which is essentially a privatization[clarification needed] of the atmosphere.[139]

A coal-fired power plant in Luchegorsk, Russia. If there was a carbon tax, it would add a fee (or "tax") for the CO2 emitted from the power station.

A carbon tax is a tax levied on the carbon emissions required to produce goods and services. Carbon taxes are intended to make visible the "hidden" social costs of carbon emissions, which are otherwise felt only in indirect ways like more severe weather events. In this way, they are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing prices of the fossil fuels that emit them when burned. This both decreases demand for goods and services that produce high emissions and incentivizes making them less carbon-intensive.[140] When a hydrocarbon fuel such as coal, petroleum, or natural gas is burned, most or all of its carbon is converted to CO2. Greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, which damages the environment and human health. This negative externality can be reduced by taxing carbon content at any point in the product cycle.[141][142][143][144] Carbon taxes are thus a type of Pigovian tax.[145]

In its simplest form, a carbon tax covers only CO2 emissions; however, it could also cover other greenhouse gases, such as methane or nitrous oxide, by taxing such emissions based on their CO2-equivalent global warming potential.[146]

Effects of economic growth on emissions[edit]

The emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50%. Compliance with the 1.5 °C goal of the Paris Agreement would require the richest 1% to reduce their current emissions by at least a factor of 30, while per-person emissions of the poorest 50% could increase by a factor of about three.[147]
Though total CO2 emissions (size of pie charts) differ substantially among high-emitting regions, the pattern of higher income classes emitting more than lower income classes is consistent across regions.[148] The world’s top 1% of emitters emit over 1000 times more than the bottom 1%.[148]

Some have said that economic growth is a key driver of CO2 emissions.[149]: 707 [better source needed][150][contradictory][151][152] However later (in late 2022) others have said that economic growth no longer means higher emissions.[153] As the economy expands, demand for energy and energy-intensive goods increases, pushing up CO2 emissions. On the other hand, economic growth may drive technological change and increase energy efficiency. Economic growth may be associated with specialization in certain economic sectors. If specialization is in energy-intensive sectors, specifically carbon energy sources, then there will be a strong link between economic growth and emissions growth. If specialization is in less energy-intensive sectors, e.g. the services sector, then there might be a weak link between economic growth and emissions growth.

Much of the literature focuses on the "environmental Kuznets curve" (EKC) hypothesis, which posits that at early stages of development, pollution per capita and GDP per capita move in the same direction. Beyond a certain income level, emissions per capita will decrease as GDP per capita increase, thus generating an inverted-U shaped relationship between GDP per capita and pollution. However, the econometrics literature did not support either an optimistic interpretation of the EKC hypothesis – i.e., that the problem of emissions growth will solve itself – or a pessimistic interpretation – i.e., that economic growth is irrevocably linked to emissions growth.[149] Instead, it was suggested that there was some degree of flexibility between economic growth and emissions growth.[154]

Global economic inequality[edit]

A 2019 modelling study found climate change had contributed towards global economic inequality. Wealthy countries in colder regions had either felt little overall economic impact from climate change, or possibly benefited, whereas poor hotter countries very likely grew less than if global warming had not occurred.[155] Part of this observation stems from the fact that greenhouse gas emissions come mainly from high-income countries, while low-income countries are affected by it negatively.[156] So, high-income countries are producing significant amounts of emissions, but the impacts are unequally threatening low-income countries, who do not have access to the resources to recover from such impacts. This further deepens the inequalities within the poor and the rich, hindering sustainability efforts. Impacts of climate change could even push millions of people into poverty.[157]

Challenges and debates[edit]

There are a number of benefits of using aggregated assessments to measure economic impacts of climate change.[2]: 954  They allow impacts to be directly compared between different regions and times. Impacts can be compared with other environmental problems and also with the costs of avoiding those impacts. A problem of aggregated analyses is that they often reduce different types of impacts into a small number of indicators. It can be argued that some impacts are not well-suited to this, e.g., the monetization of mortality and loss of species diversity. On the other hand, where there are monetary costs of avoiding impacts, it may not be possible to avoid monetary valuation of those impacts.[158]: 364 

Efficiency and equity[edit]

No consensus exists on who should bear the burden of adaptation and mitigation costs.[118]: 29  Several different arguments have been made over how to spread the costs and benefits of taxes or systems based on emissions trading.

One approach considers the problem from the perspective of who benefits most from the public good. This approach is sensitive to the fact that different preferences exist between different income classes. The public good is viewed in a similar way as a private good, where those who use the public good must pay for it. Some people will benefit more from the public good than others, thus creating inequalities in the absence of benefit taxes. A difficulty with public goods is determining who exactly benefits from the public good, although some estimates of the distribution of the costs and benefits of global warming have been made – see above. Additionally, this approach does not provide guidance as to how the surplus of benefits from climate policy should be shared.

A second approach has been suggested based on economics and the social welfare function. To calculate the social welfare function requires an aggregation of the impacts of climate change policies and climate change itself across all affected individuals. This calculation involves a number of complexities and controversial equity issues.[86]: 460  For example, the monetization of certain impacts on human health. There is also controversy over the issue of benefits affecting one individual offsetting negative impacts on another.[2] : 958  These issues to do with equity and aggregation cannot be fully resolved by economics.[137]: 87 

On a utilitarian basis, which has traditionally been used in welfare economics, an argument can be made for richer countries taking on most of the burdens of mitigation.[159] However, another result is possible with a different modeling of impacts. If an approach is taken where the interests of poorer people have lower weighting, the result is that there is a much weaker argument in favour of mitigation action in rich countries. Valuing climate change impacts in poorer countries less than domestic climate change impacts (both in terms of policy and the impacts of climate change) would be consistent with observed spending in rich countries on foreign aid[160][161]: 229 

A third approach looks at the problem from the perspective of who has contributed most to the problem. Because the industrialized countries have contributed more than two-thirds of the stock of human-induced GHGs in the atmosphere, this approach suggests that they should bear the largest share of the costs. This stock of emissions has been described as an "environmental debt".[162]: 167  In terms of efficiency, this view is not supported. This is because efficiency requires incentives to be forward-looking, and not retrospective.[118]: 29  The question of historical responsibility is a matter of ethics. It has been suggested that developed countries could address the issue by making side-payments to developing countries.[162]: 167 

Insurance and markets[edit]

Traditional insurance works by transferring risk to those better able or more willing to bear risk, and also by the pooling of risk.[118]: 25  Since the risks of climate change are, to some extent, correlated, this reduces the effectiveness of pooling. However, there is reason to believe that different regions will be affected differently by climate change. This suggests that pooling might be effective. Since developing countries appear to be potentially most at risk from the effects of climate change, developed countries could provide insurance against these risks.[163]

Disease, rising seas, reduced crop yields, and other harms driven by climate change will likely have a major deleterious impact on the economy by 2050 unless the world sharply reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the near term, according to a number of studies, including a study by the Carbon Disclosure Project and a study by insurance giant Swiss Re. The Swiss Re assessment found that annual output by the world economy will be reduced by $23 trillion annually, unless greenhouse gas emissions are adequately mitigated. As a consequence, according to the Swiss Re study, climate change will impact how the insurance industry prices a variety of risks.[164][165][166]

Authors have pointed to several reasons why commercial insurance markets cannot adequately cover risks associated with climate change.[167]: 72  For example, there is no international market where individuals or countries can insure themselves against losses from climate change or related climate change policies.[clarification needed]

Financial markets for risk

There are several options for how insurance could be used in responding to climate change.[167]: 72  One response could be to have binding agreements between countries. Countries suffering greater-than-average climate-related losses would be assisted by those suffering less-than-average losses. This would be a type of mutual insurance contract.

These two approaches would allow for a more efficient distribution of climate change risks. They would also allow for different beliefs over future climate outcomes. For example, it has been suggested that these markets might provide an objective test of the honesty of a particular country's beliefs over climate change. Countries[which?] that honestly believe that climate change presents little risk[clarification needed] would be more prone to hold securities against these risks.

Underestimation of economic impacts[edit]

Studies in 2019 suggest that economic damages due to climate change have been underestimated, and may be severe, with the probability of disastrous tail-risk events.[168][169]

Tipping points are critical thresholds that, when crossed, lead to large, accelerating and often irreversible changes in the climate system. The science of tipping points is complex and there is great uncertainty as to how they might unfold.[170] Economic analyses often exclude the potential effect of tipping points. A 2018 study noted that the global economic impact is underestimated by a factor of two to eight, when tipping points are excluded from consideration.[25]

The Stern Review from 2006 for the British Government predicted that world GDP would be reduced by several percent due to climate related costs. However, their calculations may omit ecological effects that are difficult to quantify economically (such as human deaths or loss of biodiversity) or whose economic consequences will manifest slowly.[171] Therefore, their calculations may be an underestimate. The study has received both criticism and support from other economists (see Stern Review for more information).

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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