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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA,  ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE (environmentalscience.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 22 May 2018

Summary and Keywords

Economic damage from climate change includes several aspects that need to be considered at the global and regional levels to achieve an equitable common solution to global warming. The economic literature reviewed here analyzes this issue under three general perspectives.

First, the analytical estimation of the linkages between damages in monetary terms and climate variables, as projections of temperature, precipitation, and frequency of extreme events, is rapidly evolving. Damage functions are included in complex economic models in order to calculate the economic impact of the climate change on economic output and growth, thus informing the debate on the amount of resources that should be devoted to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limiting climate damages. The choice of the geographical aggregation in this respect is a crucial aspect to be considered if policy advice is to be formulated on the basis of model results. The higher the level of regional detail, the more reliable the results are in terms of geographical distribution of economic damages.

Second, the precise estimation of the costs associated with different damages caused by climate change is attracting growing interest. Climate costs present a wide range of heterogeneity for several reasons, such as the different formulation of the damage function adopted, the modeling design of the economic impact, the temporal horizon considered, and the differentiation across sectors. Two broad categories of analysis are relevant. The first refers to the choice of the sectoral dimension under investigation, where some studies cover multiple sectors and their interactions, while others analyze specific sectors in depth. The second classification criterion refers to the choice of the economic aspects estimated, where a strand of literature analyzes only market-based costs, while other analyses also include non-market (or intangible) damages. The most common sectors investigated are agriculture, forestry, health, energy, coastal zones and sea level rise, extreme events, tourism, ecosystem, industry, air quality, and catastrophic damages. Most studies consider market-based costs, while non-market impacts need to be better detailed in economic models.

Third, the computation of a single number through the analytical framework of the social costs of carbon (SCC) represents a key aspect of the process of adapting complex results in order to properly inform the political debate. SCC represents the marginal global damage cost of carbon emissions and can also be interpreted as the economic value of damages avoided for unitary GHG emission reduction. Several uncertainties still influence the robustness of the SCC analytical framework, such as the choice of the discount rate, which strongly influences the role of SCC in supporting or not mitigation action in the short term.

Although the debate on the economic damages arising from climate change is flourishing, several aspects still need to be investigated in order to build a common consensus within the scientific community as a necessary condition to properly inform the political debate and to facilitate the achievement of a long-term equitable global climate agreement.

Keywords: climate change, social cost of carbon, uncertainty, climate sensitivity

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