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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. 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.
  2. Richard S.J. Tol, 2002. "Emission Abatement Versus Development As Strategies To Reduce Vulnerability To Climate Change: An Application Of Fund," Working Papers FNU-12, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Apr 2002.
  3. Tol, Richard S. J., 2007. "The Social Cost of Carbon: Trends, Outliers and Catastrophes," Economics Discussion Papers 2007-44, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
  4. 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.
  5. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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.
  7. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 2002. "Tropics, Germs, and Crops: How Endowments Influence Economic Development," Working Papers 15, Center for Global Development.
  8. 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.
  9. Francesco Bosello & Roberto Roson & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "Economy-Wide Estimates Of The Implications Of Climate Change: Human Health," Working Papers FNU-57, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Dec 2004.
  10. Masters, William A. & McMillan, Margaret S., 2001. "Climate And Scale In Economic Growth," Miscellaneous Papers 11845, Agecon Search.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  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. Paavola, Jouni & Adger, W. Neil, 2006. "Fair adaptation to climate change," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 594-609, April.
  16. Roberto Roson & Francesco Bosello & Marco Lazzarin & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "Economy-Wide Estimates of the Implications of Climate Change: Sea Level Rise," Working Papers 2004.96, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  17. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew Mellinger, 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," CID Working Papers 1, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  18. Roy Darwin & Richard Tol, 2001. "Estimates of the Economic Effects of Sea Level Rise," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 19(2), pages 113-129, June.
  19. Galor, Oded & Weil, David, 1999. "From Malthusian Stagnation to Modern Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 2082, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Katrin Rehdanz & David J. Maddison, 2003. "Climate and Happiness," Working Papers FNU-20, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Apr 2003.
  25. John P. Weyant, Francisco C. de la Chesnaye, and Geoff J. Blanford, 2006. "Overview of EMF-21: Multigas Mitigation and Climate Policy," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Special I), pages 1-32.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. 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.
  30. David Anthoff & Cameron Hepburn & Richard S.J. Tol, 2007. "Equity Weighting and the Marginal Damage Costs of Climate Change," Working Papers 2007.43, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  31. Gallup, J.L. & Sachs, J.D. & Mullinger, A., 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," Papers 1, Chicago - Graduate School of Business.
  32. 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.
  33. Anna Alberini & Aline Chiabai & Lucija Muehlenbachs, 2005. "Using Expert Judgment to Assess Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change: Evidence From a Conjoint Choice Survey," Working Papers 2005.106, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  34. Andrea Bigano & Maria Berrittella & Roberto Roson & Richard S.J. Tol, 2004. "A General Equilibrium Analysis of Climate Change Impacts on Tourism," Working Papers 2004.127, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  35. 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.
  36. Hope, Chris, 2008. "Discount rates, equity weights and the social cost of carbon," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 1011-1019, May.
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  39. 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.
  40. 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.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. 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.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1984. "Social criteria for evaluating population change," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1-2), pages 13-33, November.
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