Jan. 23, 2013 by Frank Ackerman

Climate Economics: The State of the Art

Cross-posted from Triple Crisis.

Climate science paints an ever-more-detailed picture: irreversible, catastrophic events are becoming increasingly likely as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Climate economics, particularly in its policy applications, lags behind: leading models and analyses frequently ignore the extreme risks and the intergenerational aspect of the problem – and rely on simplistic and dated interpretations of the underlying science. Yet the state of the art has progressed rapidly, in the research literature on climate economics as well as science.

To address this problem, Liz Stanton and I wrote Climate Economics: The State of the Art, which has just been published by Routledge. Our book grew out of a request from the World Wildlife Fund for an update on climate economics since the Stern Review. In that 2006 review, commissioned by the British government, Nicholas Stern argued persuasively for a new approach to the economics of climate change, emphasizing arguments for a very low discount rate and a focus on catastrophic risks.

As we explain, both science and economics have continued to advance since Stern’s path-breaking work. After a review of “climate science for economists,” we examine three major areas: the treatment of climate damages in economics; new developments …

Aug. 23, 2012 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Triple Crisis.

Can we protect the earth’s climate without talking about it – by pursuing more popular policy goals such as cheap, clean energy, which also happen to reduce carbon emissions? It doesn’t make sense for the long run, and won’t carry us through the necessary decades of technological change and redirected investment. But in the current context of climate policy fatigue, it may be the least-bad short-run strategy available.

You may have lost interest in climate change, but the climate hasn’t lost interest in you. Once-extraordinary heat waves are becoming the new normal. Recent research demonstrates that by now someone “old enough to remember the climate of 1951–1980 should recognize the existence of climate change, especially in summer.”

Despite evidence of a worsening climate, the repeated failure of climate negotiations is sadly predictable. Real climate solutions require international cooperation, but …

Nov. 9, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Real Climate Economics.

Economic analysis has become increasingly central to the climate policy debate, but the models and assumptions of climate economics often lag far behind the latest developments in this fast-moving field. That’s why Elizabeth Stanton and I have written Climate Economics: The State of the Art, an in-depth review of new developments in climate economics and science since the Stern Review (2006) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007), with more than 500 citations to the recent research literature.

We begin with a survey of climate science that is potentially relevant to economic analysis, including uncertainties in climate dynamics, the role of black carbon, temperature thresholds for irreversible losses, a new understanding of climate impacts on agriculture, and projections that temperatures could remain near their historical peak for centuries or millennia after greenhouse gas concentrations start declining …

Oct. 27, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has asked the Energy Information Administration to evaluate an unrealistically harsh and unsophisticated clean energy standard, designed to represent the Republicans’ worst nightmare: every electricity retailer in the country (some of them quite small) must meet a relatively high and rising standard for low-carbon energy, starting very soon, with no trading between companies, banking of excess credits, or other flexibility mechanisms that would soften the blow.

Even the Republican nightmare doesn’t look as bad as one might have suspected: according to the EIA analysis, it achieves a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, while causing electricity prices to rise by less than one percent per year, and lowering GDP per capita in 2035, the end of the study period, all the way from (watch closely or you’ll miss this) $65,848 to $65,658 – a reduction of …

July 21, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

This item, cross-posted from Triple Crisis, was written by CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman and fellow Stockholm Environment Institute-U.S. Center economist Elizabeth A. Stanton.

Your house might not burn down next year. So you could probably save money by cancelling your fire insurance.

That’s a “bargain” that few homeowners would accept.

But it’s the same deal that politicians have accepted for us, when it comes to insurance against climate change. They have rejected sensible investments in efficiency and clean energy, which would reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs, and jumpstart new technologies – because they are too expensive.

While your house might not burn down, your planet is starting to smolder. Extreme weather events are becoming more common, and more expensive: in the first half of 2011, Mississippi River floods cost us between $2 and $4 billion, while the ongoing Texas drought has cost us …

May 6, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Triple Crisis.

Climate legislation, even in its most modest and repeatedly compromised variety, failed last year. And there won’t be a second chance with anything like the current Congress. What caused this momentous failure?

Broadly speaking, there are two rival stories. It could be due to the strength of opposing or inertial forces: well-funded lobbying by fossil fuel industries, biased coverage by increasingly right-wing media, the growth of the “Tea Party” subculture and its rejection of science, dysfunctional institutions such as the U.S. Senate with its filibuster rules, and the low priority given to climate legislation by the Obama administration.

Or it could be because environmentalists screwed up and shot themselves in the foot.

If you had to guess, which of these stories sounds to you like it would get more media attention? You’re right, that’s what everyone else thought, too …

March 15, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Real Climate Economics.

True or false: Risks of a climate catastrophe can be ignored, even as temperatures rise? The economic impact of climate change is no greater than the increased cost of air conditioning in a warmer future? The ideal temperature for agriculture could be 17 degrees C above historical levels?

All true, according to the increasingly popular FUND model of climate economics. It is one of three models used by the federal government’s Interagency Working Group to estimate the “social cost of carbon” – that is, the monetary value of the long-term damages done by greenhouse gas emissions. According to FUND, as used by the Working Group, the social cost of carbon is a mere $6 per ton of CO2. That translates into $0.06 per gallon of gasoline. Do you believe that a tax of $0.06 per gallon at the gas pump …

June 24, 2010 by Frank Ackerman

Is the Gulf of Mexico disaster a reason to pass climate legislation – or is that legislation largely irrelevant to curbing our oil use? A Greenwire article Tuesday quoted a number of economists arguing that the leading proposals in Congress wouldn’t do much to change our dependence on petroleum.

The only reasonable response is “yes, of course.” Climate proposals such as Kerry-Lieberman, Cantwell-Collins, or Waxman-Markey will have limited effects on oil consumption for two reasons: first, they are market mechanisms; second, they are weak market mechanisms.

To start with the good news, reducing carbon emissions from electric utilities is cheaper than reducing oil use. Any market mechanism is supposed to prompt us to do the cheapest things first; that’s the whole point. There are many ways to make electricity with lower carbon emissions than a coal plant; putting a price on carbon makes those alternatives cheaper …

May 26, 2010 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Triple Crisis.

Despite talk of a moratorium, the Interior Department’s Minerals and Management Service is still granting waivers from environmental review for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, including wells in very deep water. Until last month, most of us never thought about the risk that one of those huge offshore rigs would explode in flames and then sink, causing oil to gush out uncontrollably and befoul the oceans. The odds seemed low, and still do: Aren’t there lots of drilling rigs in use, year after year? Twenty years ago, your elected representatives thought that you’d be happy to have them adopt a very low cap on industry’s liability for oil spill damages.

Nuclear power was never quite free of fears; it was too clearly a spin-off of nuclear weapons to ignore the risk of a very big bang. Yet …

Jan. 19, 2010 by Frank Ackerman

Bjorn Lomborg has seen the future of climate policy, and it doesn’t work. In his opinion, featured Friday in the Washington Post, a binding treaty to reduce carbon emissions – the goal that was pursued unsuccessfully at the Copenhagen conference in December – would have done more harm than good. Reducing emissions enough to stabilize the temperature would have astronomical costs, according to Lomborg, while the benefits would be small.

This is par for the course for Lomborg, a Danish political scientist who has gained international notoriety for his repeated attacks on environmental protection. His source for his climate policy skepticism is a very selective reading of economics, described grandly and inaccurately as what all economists think. For instance, do “all the major climate economic models” agree on a specific, extreme forecast of carbon taxes, as asserted by Lomborg? Not a chance; major models tend to disagree somewhat …

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