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Use and non-use value of nature and the social cost of carbon


Climate change is damaging ecosystems throughout the world with serious implications for human well-being. Quantifying the benefits of reducing emissions requires understanding these costs, but the unique and non-market nature of many goods provided by natural systems makes them difficult to value. Detailed representation of ecological damages in models used to calculate the costs of greenhouse gas emissions has been largely lacking. Here, we have expanded a cost–benefit integrated assessment model to include natural capital as a form of wealth. This brings benefits to people through non-use existence value and as an input into the production of ecosystem services and market goods. In our model, using central estimates for all parameters, optimal emissions reach zero by the year 2050, limiting warming to 1.5 °C by the year 2100. We used Monte Carlo analysis to examine the influence of several key uncertain model parameters, and examined the effect of adaptive investments in natural systems that partially offset climate damages. Overall, we show that accounting for the use and non-use value of nature has large implications for climate policy. Our analysis suggests that better understanding climate impacts on natural systems and associated welfare effects should be a high priority for future research.

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Fig. 1: GreenDICE diagram for modelling the welfare effects of climate change impacts on natural capital.
Fig. 2: Climate policy results derived from the DICE and GreenDICE models.
Fig. 3: Sensitivity analysis of uncertain parameters under welfare maximization conditions.
Fig. 4: Random forest analysis of Monte Carlo simulation.
Fig. 5: Impacts of the Adaptive Investments model on natural capital and climate damage.

Data availability

Results of the simulations are available at

Code availability

GreenDICE code is available at


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This study was supported by the National Science Foundation (award number 1924378: ‘CNH2-S: Understanding the Coupling Between Climate Policy and Ecosystem Change’), the Hellman Fellows Program (F.C.M.), the Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship (B.A.B.-O.) and a UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment Fellowship (B.A.B.-O.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



B.A.B.-O. and F.C.M. conceived the study, analysed the results and prepared the manuscript. B.A.B.-O. coded the model and performed the simulations.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bernardo A. Bastien-Olvera.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Effects of different estimates of natural capital.

Effects of different estimates of the natural capital-adjusted total factor productivity and natural capital current value relative to current manufactured capital. Red stars give values using the preferred parameter estimates. Size of circles represents the current global estimate of natural capital value with respect to manufactured capital.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Three levels of adaptation costs.

Key policy variables under welfare-maximizing conditions of three levels of adaptation costs. Dotted line is standard DICE, and dashed-dotted line is GreenDICE without investments.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Investments on natural capital stock.

Welfare-maximizing investments on natural capital stock.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, Tables 2–6 and notes.

Supplementary Table 1

Key parameters and functional forms introduced in GreenDICE. If not specified, the parameter is the same as in DICE 2013R.

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Bastien-Olvera, B.A., Moore, F.C. Use and non-use value of nature and the social cost of carbon. Nat Sustain 4, 101–108 (2021).

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