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.

Willi Semmler's book

SCEPA Economist Willi Semmler was appointed Senior Research Associate at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria. Semmler will work with IIASA on models of economic growth under environmental constraints. IIASA is an international scientific institute conducting research on global environmental, economic, technological, and social change and advising policymakers around the globe. Their recent work includes contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Semmler is director of SCEPA's project on the Economics of Climate Change and author of the Oxford Handbook on the Macroeconomics of Global Warming with Lucas Bernard.

Representatives from over 155 countries gathered at the United Nations on Earth Day 2016 to sign the historic COP21 climate change agreement negotiated in Paris last year.

Now what?

The backbone of the agreement is a commitment to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. To do so would require a worldwide switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), joined SCEPA’s Economics of Climate Change lecture series to share his road map for bringing the Paris agreement to life. His presentation discussed how the agreement will change the institutional landscape of global climate governance and how to bring the economics and politics of climate stability to action. 

Edenhofer is a leading international expert on climate policy at the Technical University of Berlin. He is director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, a fellow of the German Academy of Sciences, and deputy director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The event was be followed by a reception featuring the premiere of “The Warming Earth,” a jazz piece composed by Rich Shemaria.

“Climate Policies After Paris” is hosted by SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project and generously sponsored by the Tishman Enviromental and Design Center (TEDC), the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

IMF logoThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) is ramping up its collaboration with climate change experts in the academic community - including SCEPA Economist Willi Semmler - to discuss how developing countries can meet the conditions of the United Nation’s Paris agreement.

As the director of SCEPA’s Economics of Climate Change project, which presents expert lectures and original research on the economic effects of climate policies, Semmler was invited to work with the IMF's research and policy teams. Last week, he presented two lectures before the IMF’s Division of Development Macroeconomics on modeling economic growth in the context of climate change and he is co-authoring research with New School PhD candidate Anthony Bonen and IMF staff.

Semmler is the Arnhold Professor of Economics at The New School and co-author of the Oxford Handbook of the Macroeconomics of Global Warming.

glacierThe United Nation’s 2016 Paris Agreement, negotiated by 195 countries, creates a framework for keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees celsius. The next task is determining how to pay for it.

The Paris agreement commits developed countries to a collective goal of $100 billion per year by 2020. The European Commission expects this funding goal to increase thereafter. However, this places the burden of climate change mitigation costs on the shoulders of the current generation. In 2014, economist Jeffrey Sachs proposed financing climate change mitigation through public debt as a means to share costs between current and future generations.

In a new working paper, SCEPA Economist Willi Semmler and his co-authors expand on Sachs’ plan by proposing green bonds as the long-term debt mechanism to balance intergenerational costs. In their model, climate change mitigation investments made through green bonds will yield additional capital in the future, which will in turn generate additional output to repay the green bonds. Low interest rates provide the perfect opportunity to initiate green bonds, allowing current and future generation to finance climate change debt at historically low costs.

Oil Shaleby Arkady Gevorkyan and Willi Semmler

A cheap alternative to imported fossil fuels, shale energy was considered revolutionary when it hit the market in the late 20th century. As a result, the shale industry thrived in the early 2000s, playing a major role in the energy sector. But early in mid2014, the industry began to falter due to market forces and high debt levels, leaving it to face an uncertain future. However, the bust of the shale industry opens the door to the next revolutionary player in the energy sector: renewables.

The shale industry’s poor market position is due to both external market forces and questionable business practices, as documented in a recent SCEPA paper and published in Economic Modeling. First, an EIA report documents how shale companies engaged in excessive borrowing, incurring an unprecedented level of debt from 2010 to 2014. Second, 2014 ushered in an unexpected drop in crude oil prices that undercut shale’s competitive price in the market. Third, many of the larger energy companies that had been investing in small and midsize shale oil companies substantially increased their borrowing after the 2014 price plunge.

Unfortunately, experts predict that crude oil prices will remain low, extending shale’s “bust” cycle and offering the industry little chance at redemption. Instead, smaller shale companies that overleveraged during the “boom” years will likely have to downsize production and liquidate capital to repay debt. Rather than inspiring confidence in potential and necessary investors, this could reinforce shale companies’ reputation within the energy industry for making misguided investments and lead to a sector shakeout that forces some companies to restructure and some to fold.

Should shale collapse, what comes next? While some argue that low crude oil prices will simply revert the market back to a high demand for fossil fuels, others believe this “bust” among traditional market players is an opportunity for the emerging renewable sector. In fact, renewable energy companies could find U.S. consumers more open to green energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, just as they once learned to embrace shale energy.

In 40 years, Germany plans to rely almost 100% on renewable energy. How will they get there?

German Economist Claudia Kemfert discussed how the transition to green energy will help - not hurt - Europe's largest economy by investing in infrastructure and energy efficiency and creating jobs.

Claudia Kemfert is a professor of energy economics and sustainability at Berlin's Hertie School of Governance and head of the department of Energy, Transportation and Environment at the German Institute of Economic Research.

The event was hosted by SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project, led by New School Professor of Economics Willi Semmler, and is generously sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK).

Follow the conversation on Twitter with @SCEPA_economics using #CCecon.

All eyes are on Paris. The United Nations is working to secure a historic, legally binding international climate change agreement at its December meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the City of Lights.

But the negotiations have already begun. Governments are submitting their mitigation and adaptation plans. Scientists put forward a statement on the essential elements of a plan.  And in May, Paris will host a climate summit with business interests. The anticipation for an agreement is building, and so is the pressure on the UN. How will they make the promise a reality?

Selwin Hart, Director of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, joined SCEPA on May 11th to present, "The Road to Paris and Beyond: Creating a Climate Change Agreement that Works." Hart shared his insider point of view on the UN's efforts to mobilize the support necessary to secure an agreement. He will also share the UN's vision to ensure it works, including a framework for a multilateral, rules-based climate regime.

The lecture was followed by a presentation on "The Oxford Handbook of the Macroeconomics of Global Warming" by SCEPA Faculty Fellow Willi Semmler and New School economic alumnus Lucas Bernard, Professor of Business at CUNY's College of Technology. The handbook analyzes the economic impact of global warming and how the responses to it - including preventative measures, adaptation policies and international agreements - affect growth, sustainability and society. With articles from over 50 different scholars, it considers how these consequences differ between developed and developing nations.

The event was hosted by SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project, led by New School Professor of Economics Willi Semmler, and is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK).

Follow the conversation on Twitter with @SCEPA_economics using #CCecon.

Thyssen logoSCEPA is honored to receive a second grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation to continue our speaker series on the Economics of Climate Change, led by SCEPA Faculty Fellow Willi Semmler for an additional three years. The series brings distinguished scholars, policy experts and government officials to The New School to discuss how economies can transition to green energy and technology. Past speakers include Michael Oppenheimer, Geoffrey Heal, Peter Schlosser, Robert Koop, Wolfram Schlenker, Mark Jacobson, and Artur Runge-Metzger.

Given the recent series of IPCC reports, the People's Climate March in September in New York, and the historic United States-China agreement on climate change in 2014, SCEPA is grateful for this opportunity to continue to build a dialogue between academics, practitioners and the general public to facilitate global action on climate change.

BookSCEPA Faculty Fellow Willi Semmler and New School economic alumnus Lucas Bernard, Professor of Business at CUNY’s College of Technology, have published “The Oxford Handbook of the Macroeconomics of Global Warming.”

The handbook analyzes the economic impact of global warming and how responses to it - including preventative measures, adaptation policies and international agreements - affect growth, sustainability and society. With articles from over 50 different scholars, it considers how these consequences differ between developed and developing nations.

"Governments can and must regulate cooperatively. Private industry can and must address the causal factors, and the solutions to mitigate, global warming. In this seminal work, Bernard and Semmler give us an insightful and comprehensive framework to find the social, scientific, and economic initiatives critical to solving humankind's greatest challenge" said Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Executive Chairman at Global Thermostat.

This publication is an outcome of SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project. The project is generously supported by the Alex C. Walker Foundation, Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK), and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

After last week's historic climate change deal between the U.S. and China, Geoffrey Heal, a coordinating lead author of the IPCC reports and professor of social enterprise at Columbia Business School, joined SCEPA to discuss how to secure a global agreement. His presentation put forward an optimistic message based on John Nash's game theory.

Coalition Building

First, he called for coalition formation based on initial agreements between the three largest emissions producers - China, E.U. and the U.S. - incentivizing other countries to follow and removing the disincentive of competitive disadvantage when acting alone.

Technological Innovation

Second, he called for an evolution in the discussion of climate change mitigation beyond timelines and targets, instead focusing on the technological innovations necessary to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. His presentation specified the current technical limitations and focused on alternatives that were or could be competitve in the market. 

Geoffrey Heal's Climate Work

Professor Heal is noted for contributions to economic theory and resource and environmental economics. His recent books include Nature and the MarketplaceValuing the FutureWhen Principles Pay and Whole Earth Economics (forthcoming).

Heal chaired a committee of the National Academy of Sciences on valuing ecosystem services, served as a Commissioner of the Pew Oceans Commission, a member of President Sarkozy's Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, a member of the advisory board for the World Bank's 2010 World Development Report and the United Nations Environment Program's 2011 Human Development Report, and acts as an advisor to the World Bank on its Green Growth project.

Economics of Climate Change

Heal's lecture was hosted by SCEPA's Economics of Climate Change Project, led by New School Professor of Economics Willi Semmler and in coordination with The New School's Tishman Environment and Design Center. The project is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG).