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The Economic Effects of Climate Change

  • Richard S. J. Tol

I review the literature on the economic impacts of climate change, an externality that is unprecedentedly large, complex, and uncertain. Only 14 estimates of the total damage cost of climate change have been published, a research effort that is in sharp contrast to the urgency of the public debate and the proposed expenditure on greenhouse gas emission reduction. These estimates show that climate change initially improves economic welfare. However, these benefits are sunk. Impacts would be predominantly negative later in the century. Global average impacts would be comparable to the welfare loss of a few percent of income, but substantially higher in poor countries. Still, the impact of climate change over a century is comparable to economic growth over a few years. There are over 200 estimates of the marginal damage cost of carbon dioxide emissions. The uncertainty about the social cost of carbon is large and right-skewed. For a standard discount rate, the expected value is $50/tC, which is much lower than the price of carbon in the European Union but much higher than the price of carbon elsewhere. Current estimates of the damage costs of climate change are incomplete, with positive and negative biases. Most important among the missing impacts are the indirect effects of climate change on economic development; large-scale biodiversity loss; low-probability, high-impact scenarios; the impact of climate change on violent conflict; and the impacts of climate change beyond 2100. From a welfare perspective, the impact of climate change is problematic because population is endogenous, and because policy analyses should separate impatience, risk aversion, and inequity aversion between and within countries.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.23.2.29
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 23 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 29-51

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:2:p:29-51
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.2.29
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  1. P. Michael Link & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "Possible Economic Impacts of a Shutdown of the Thermohaline Circulation: an Application of FUND," Working Papers FNU-42, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Apr 2004.
  2. Richard Tol, 2002. "Estimates of the Damage Costs of Climate Change, Part II. Dynamic Estimates," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 21(2), pages 135-160, February.
  3. Paavola, Jouni & Adger, W. Neil, 2006. "Fair adaptation to climate change," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 594-609, April.
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  5. Fankhauser, Samuel & S.J. Tol, Richard, 2005. "On climate change and economic growth," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 1-17, January.
  6. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 2002. "Tropics, Germs, and Crops: How Endowments Influence Economic Development," NBER Working Papers 9106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. David Anthoff & Cameron Hepburn & Richard S.J. Tol, 2006. "Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change," Working Papers FNU-121, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Dec 2006.
  8. Francesco Bosello & Roberto Roson & Richard S.J. Tol, 2005. "Economy-Wide Estimates of the Implications of Climate Change: Human Health," Working Papers 2005.97, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  9. Anna Alberini & Aline Chiabai, 2006. "Using Expert Judgment to Assess Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change: Evidence From a Conjoint Choice Survey," ERSA conference papers ersa06p292, European Regional Science Association.
  10. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
  11. Schafer, Andreas & Jacoby, Henry D., 2005. "Technology detail in a multisector CGE model: transport under climate policy," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 1-24, January.
  12. Breslow, Paul B. & Sailor, David J., 2002. "Vulnerability of wind power resources to climate change in the continental United States," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 585-598.
  13. Richard S.J. Tol & Samuel Fankhauser & Richard G. Richels & Joel B. Smith, 2000. "How Much Damage Will Climate Change Do?," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 1(4), pages 179-206, October.
  14. Richard S.J. Tol, 2006. "Why Worry About Climate Change? A Research Agenda," Working Papers FNU-116, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Sep 2006.
  15. Gary W. Yohe & Richard S.J. Tol, 2001. "Indicators for Social and Economic Coping Capacity – Moving Toward at Working Definition of Adaptive Capacity," Working Papers FNU-8, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Jun 2001.
  16. Richard S.J. Tol & Gary W. Yohe, 2006. "The Weakest Link Hypothesis For Adaptive Capacity: An Empirical Test," Wesleyan Economics Working Papers 2006-005, Wesleyan University, Department of Economics.
  17. Gary Yohe & Michael Schlesinger, 2002. "The economic geography of the impacts of climate change," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(3), pages 311-341, July.
  18. Robert Ayres & Jörg Walter, 1991. "The greenhouse effect: Damages, costs and abatement," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 1(3), pages 237-270, September.
  19. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 1999. "From Malthusian Stagnation to Modern Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 150-154, May.
  20. Francesco Bosello & Roberto Roson & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "Economy-Wide Estimates Of The Implications Of Climate Change: Sea Level Rise," Working Papers FNU-38, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Jan 2004.
  21. Nordhaus, William D, 1991. "To Slow or Not to Slow: The Economics of the Greenhouse Effect," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 920-37, July.
  22. William D. Nordhaus, 1992. "Rolling the 'Dice': An Optimal Transition Path for Controlling Greenhouse Gases," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1019, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  23. Richard S.J. Tol, 2000. "Is the Uncertainty about Climate Change Too Large for Expected Cost-Benefit Analysis?," Working Papers FNU-3, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Sep 2000.
  24. William A Masters and Margaret S McMillan, 2000. "Climate and Scale in Economic Growth," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/2000-13, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  25. Frankhauser, Samuel & Tol, Richard SJ, 1996. "Climate change costs : Recent advancements in the economic assessment," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(7), pages 665-673, July.
  26. Maria Berrittella & Andrea Bigano & Roberto Roson & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "A General Equilibrium Analysis Of Climate Change Impacts On Tourism," Working Papers FNU-49, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Nov 2004.
  27. Rehdanz, Katrin & Maddison, David, 2005. "Climate and happiness," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 111-125, January.
    • Katrin Rehdanz & David J. Maddison, 2003. "Climate and Happiness," Working Papers FNU-20, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Apr 2003.
  28. Tol, Richard S.J., 2005. "Emission abatement versus development as strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate change: an application of FUND," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(05), pages 615-629, October.
  29. Richard S.J. Tol & Sebastian Wagner, 2008. "Climate Change and Violent Conflict in Europe over the Last Millennium," Working Papers FNU-154, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Jan 2008.
  30. Hope, Chris, 2008. "Discount rates, equity weights and the social cost of carbon," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 1011-1019, May.
  31. Samuel Fankhauser & Richard Tol & DAVID Pearce, 1997. "The Aggregation of Climate Change Damages: a Welfare Theoretic Approach," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 10(3), pages 249-266, October.
  32. Richard S.J. Tol, 2002. "Climate, Development And Malaria: An Application Of Fund," Working Papers FNU-16, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Sep 2002.
  33. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew D. Mellinger, 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 22(2), pages 179-232, August.
  34. Tol, Richard S. J., 2008. "The Social Cost of Carbon: Trends, Outliers and Catastrophes," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, vol. 2, pages 1-22.
  35. Schafer, Andreas & Jacoby, Henry D., 2006. "Vehicle technology under CO2 constraint: a general equilibrium analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(9), pages 975-985, June.
  36. Richard S.J. Tol & Gary W. Yohe, 2005. "Infinite Uncertainty, Forgotten Feedbacks, And Cost-Benefit Analysis Of Climate Policy," Wesleyan Economics Working Papers 2005-003, Wesleyan University, Department of Economics.
  37. William D. Nordhaus, 2006. "The "Stern Review" on the Economics of Climate Change," NBER Working Papers 12741, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  38. Gallup, J.L. & Sachs, J.D. & Mullinger, A., 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," Papers 1, Chicago - Graduate School of Business.
  39. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1984. "Social criteria for evaluating population change," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1-2), pages 13-33, November.
  40. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew Mellinger, 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," CID Working Papers 1, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  41. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2002. "Reversal Of Fortune: Geography And Institutions In The Making Of The Modern World Income Distribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1231-1294, November.
  42. Maddison, David, 2003. "The amenity value of the climate: the household production function approach," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 155-175, May.
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  45. Butkiewicz, James L. & Yanikkaya, Halit, 2005. "The impact of sociopolitical instability on economic growth: Analysis and implications," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 629-645, July.
  46. Robert J. Nicholls & Richard S.J. Tol & Athanasios T. Vafeidis, 2005. "Global Estimates Of The Impact Of A Collapse Of The West Antarctic Ice Sheet: An Application Of Fund," Working Papers FNU-78, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Jul 2005.
  47. Richard Tol, 2002. "Estimates of the Damage Costs of Climate Change. Part 1: Benchmark Estimates," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 21(1), pages 47-73, January.
  48. Roy Brouwer & Frank Spaninks, 1999. "The Validity of Environmental Benefits Transfer: Further Empirical Testing," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 14(1), pages 95-117, July.
  49. S. Fankhauser & R. Tol, 1997. "The social costs of climate change: The IPCC second assessment report and beyond," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 1(4), pages 385-403, December.
  50. Horowitz, John K. & McConnell, Kenneth E., 2002. "A Review of WTA/WTP Studies," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 426-447, November.
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