Economics of Climate Change

Critics of policies that would mitigate climate change often cite negative effects on the economy to forestall change. But are they right? SCEPA is investigating these arguments in a project on The Economics of Climate Change led by Faculty Fellow Willi Semmler. Initiated in 2010 with a comprehensive international conference, SCEPA is questioning how to enact effective climate change policy in light of fragile domestic and global economies and the possibilities and practicalities of renewable energy.

CNN: How Will Climate Action Affect the Economy?

polar bearsOn Cctober 4, 2014, SCEPA Faculty Fellow Rick McGahey published an op-ed on, "A Carbon Tax will Create Jobs for Americans." McGahey, Director of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management program at The New School, addreses the myth that climate change mitigation will hurt the economy. He cites three studies showing that climate action can be beneficial to the economy from business leaders, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations. Rather than using federal subsidies to support the carbon-creating fossil fuel industry, a modest carbon tax would generate $170 billion by 2030, funds that could be used to create jobs. 

The Climate Battle: From Science to Economics

Rick McGaheyby Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow

New rules from the Obama Administration to control emissions from coal-fired power plants signal a new phase in America’s battle over climate change. The science is settled—climate change is occurring and it is caused by humans. Now we need to figure out the economics.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced tough new rules restricting emissions from power plants, requiring a thirty percent cut in their carbon emissions by the year 2030. But even though these new economic rules will be caught up in polarized political combat, they are a major step forward, and not just because of their beneficial environmental impact. They signal that the United States, however haltingly, is moving from denying the science on climate change to a necessary debate about how to control it and pay for the associated costs.

Even before the new rules were issued, attacks on them were intensifying. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a pre-emptive strike last week, saying that the new power plant rules could cost up to $50 billion annually and lose hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

Fighting back, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed that the Chamber’s negative economic estimates are wildly overstated, in part because the Chamber study doesn’t recognize any of the new businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created in alternative energy, other benefits from environmental clean-up, and lower electric bills as alternative energy gets to scale. 

Many economists would say that NRDC has the better of the argument—regulations, when done correctly, can induce new jobs and businesses and technological innovation, while producing other social benefits like cleaner air and water.

Read more: The Climate Battle: From Science to Economics

Modeling the Economic Damage of Climate Change

modelA recent SCEPA working paper, "Economic Damages from Climate Change: A Review of Modeling Approaches," examines how the three integrated assessment models (IAMs) used by the U.S. government translate climatic change into economic impacts.

To present and predict changes in weather, the scientific community relies on Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), which model and predict the impact of carbon emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations, and temperature increases on climate systems. IAMs also seek to determine the social cost of carbon (SCC) by giving the negative effects of climate change a monetary value. 

The report focuses on the formal mechanisms by which the DICE, FUND and PAGE models convert temperature increases, sea level rises and more intense storms into a dollar figure. These mechanisms are known as damage functions.

Although the IAMs use very different damage functions, they all base the impact of climate change costs on comparative scenarios. The cost of climate change is not just the destruction of structures and objects; it comes from lower food production, low health outcomes, higher indoor cooling costs and lost land to higher sea levels. While big storms and earthquakes capture the media's attention, incremental changes will have by far the greatest cumulative impact on our well-being.

Even among economists, the consensus is that these costs will be profound. This report and an earlier article by SCEPA Faculty Fellows show these leading economic models, if anything, greatly underestimate the costs of climate change.

VIDEO: Extreme Weather and the Risk from Climate Change

Can We Anticipate, Can We Adapt?

The patterns and probability of extreme weather - and its accompanying risks to society and ecosystems - are being altered by climate change due to the buildup of the greenhouse gases. While our ability to project such changes is improving, it remains inadequate at the local level, where most resilience and adaptation planning occurs. Even more troubling, needed action will likely be deferred by the economic and political obstacles that stand in the way of long-term resilience planning.

In late March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report, 'Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,' by its second Working Group as part of the Fifth Assessment Report. On April 7, 2014, Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer, one of the lead authors of the report, joined SCEPA to give a presentation on New York City's climate plan as an example of both the obstacles and possibilities of long-term planning for climate change.

Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He is director of the program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at the Woodrow Wilson School and Faculty Associate of the Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences Program, Princeton Environmental Institute, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

Oppenheimer serves as a Coordinating Lead Author on the second Working Group report. The first report, "The Physical Science Basis," released in September 2013 by the first Working Group, was the subject of a SCEPA panel held in November 2013 on the Local and Global Impacts of of Climate Change.

SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project, led by New School Professor of Economics Willi Semmler, is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG). This event is in coordination with the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Program at the Milano School.

IPCC Issues Report on Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability

WGII reportOn March 31, 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their second report as part of their Fifth Assessment on climate change. 

One of the lead authors of the report, Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer, will be joining SCEPA on Monday, April 7th at 6:00pm to discuss the report, New York City's climate plan and the difficulties of long-term planning for climate change (RSVP or watch live online). 

The report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, is clear in its conclusion that climate change is having an effect on the world and its oceans. After specifying its impacts to date, impending risks and the possibilities to take action, it concludes that decisions need to be made to mitigate these risks. 

Following are resources on the report's content: 

1. The New York Times reviews the report's major conclusions; 

2. IPCC's summary for policymakers; and

3. A webcast of the IPCC's conference releasing the report. 

In November, SCEPA held an event to discuss the first report on the physical science of climate change with experts from Columbia and Rutgers, who focused on the local and global impacts (watch the video). 

SCEPA Faculty Fellow Willi Semmler, head of the Economics of Climate Change project, published a paper with co-authors Stephan Klasen and Anthony Bonen that reviews how the economic damages of climate change are modeled and measured. Bonen joins the Worldly Philosopher blog to debate how economists and climate scientists assess these costs.

VIDEO: Local and Global Impacts of Climate Change

Predictions of the 5th IPCC Report

In September, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first of four reports providing updates on the scientific community’s knowledge of climate change and its effects. The report from the first Working Group, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, strengthens the panel’s degree of certainty that climate change is man-made and is the cause of melting ice, rising global sea levels and various forms of extreme weather. 

On November 18, 2013, SCEPA’s Economics of Climate Change lecture series presented a panel discussion with leading climate change scientists on the major findings of the report. They discussed its local and global predictions and what it forecasts for urban areas, agriculture, food production, and developing economies.


Peter Schlosser, What Does the the 5th Assessment Report Tell Us?
Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
Deputy Director and Director of Research, The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Robert Kopp, Local and Global Impacts of Extreme Weather
Assistant Professor, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University
Associate Director, Rutgers Energy Institute

Wolfram Schlenker, Effects of Weather Change on Agricultural, Food Production & the Developing World
Associate Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change project, led by New School Professor of Economics Willi Semmler, is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

VIDEO: A New Chapter in Europe's Climate Change Policy

On April 3, 2013, Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union's Director of the European Commission's Climate Action Directorate joined SCEPA's lecture series on the Economics of Climate Change to present, "Towards 2020: A New Chapter in Europe's Climate Change Policy."

On January 1, 2013, the EU stepped forward to lead the movement for needed adaptation policies, including carbon pricing and renewables, by adopting its “20-20-20” package. The new program sets European-wide targets for 2020 that build on the Kyoto Protocol and impacts sectors falling under both the EU emissions trading system and renewable energy.

The event was generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK).

PHOTOS: How to Address Climate Change with Wind, Water & Sun

On November 15, 2012, Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, joined SCEPA to present the inaugural lecture of SCEPA's new Economics of Climate Change Speaker Series. His presentation was titled, "Wind, Water and Sunlight: How to Address Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security."

Mark Z. Jacobson and Willi Semmler Mark Z. Jacobson
Audience Question
Audience Audience Questions

A School Without Electricity, Working for Solar Power

Willi Semmler, SCEPA Faculty Fellow and head of the Economics of Climate Change project, is working with Kewulay Kamara, a New School student working towards his PhD in economics, to raise funds to bring renewable energy to a school in Sierra Leone without electricity. The Dankawalie Secondary School (DSS), located in a the Dankawalie village, hopes to install solar panels on the school's library, which also serves as a resource for the entire community.

Solar-powered electricity will enhance the learning environment for the 150 students currently enrolled. The library will serve as a space for students who are unable to study at home. Having a study space allows children to succeed and focus on their school work. This is especially important for girls, who are often required to do household chores when they are home and are often not given time to study when they are home with their families.

For more information about the Dankwalie Secondary School, please visit: