Integrated assessment models compare the costs of greenhouse gas mitigation with damages from climate change to evaluate the social welfare implications of climate policy proposals and inform optimal emissions reduction trajectories. However, these models have been criticized for lacking a strong empirical basis for their damage functions, which do little to alter assumptions of sustained gross domestic product (GDP) growth, even under extreme temperature scenarios1,2,3. We implement empirical estimates of temperature effects on GDP growth rates in the DICE model through two pathways, total factor productivity growth and capital depreciation4,5. This damage specification, even under optimistic adaptation assumptions, substantially slows GDP growth in poor regions but has more modest effects in rich countries. Optimal climate policy in this model stabilizes global temperature change below 2 °C by eliminating emissions in the near future and implies a social cost of carbon several times larger than previous estimates6. A sensitivity analysis shows that the magnitude of climate change impacts on economic growth, the rate of adaptation, and the dynamic interaction between damages and GDP are three critical uncertainties requiring further research. In particular, optimal mitigation rates are much lower if countries become less sensitive to climate change impacts as they develop, making this a major source of uncertainty and an important subject for future research.
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We would like to thank J. Koomey, C. Reichard and M. Craxton for comments on the manuscript. F.C.M. is supported by the Neukermans Family Foundation Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Moore, F., Diaz, D. Temperature impacts on economic growth warrant stringent mitigation policy. Nature Clim Change 5, 127–131 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2481
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