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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2020-28
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2020-28
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  27 May 2020

27 May 2020

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A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal ESD and is expected to appear here in due course.

Economic impacts of a glacial period: a thought experiment. Assessing the disconnect between econometrics and climate sciences

Marie-Noëlle Woillez1, Gaël Giraud1,2,3, and Antoine Godin1,4 Marie-Noëlle Woillez et al.
  • 1Agence Française de Développement, 5 rue Roland Barthes, 75012 Paris, France
  • 2Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne, Paris 1 University Panthéon-Sorbonne, 106-112 bd. de l’Hôpital, Paris 75013, France
  • 3Chair Energy & Prosperity, Institut Louis bachelier, 28 place de la Bourse, 75002 Paris, France
  • 4Centre d’Economie de l’Université de Paris Nord, Université Paris 13 – Campus de Villetaneuse 99, avenue Jean-Baptiste Clément, 93430 Villetaneuse, France

Abstract. Anthropogenic climate change raises growing concerns about its potential catastrophic impacts on both ecosystems and human societies. Yet, several studies on damages induced on the economy by unmitigated global warming have proposed a much less worrying picture of the future, with only a few points decrease in the world GDP per capita by the end of the century, even for a global warming above +4 °C. We consider here two different empirically estimated functions linking GDP growth or GDP level to temperature at the country level and apply them to a global cooling of −4 °C in 2100, corresponding to a return to glacial conditions. We show that the alleged impact on global average GDP per capita runs from −1.8 %, if temperature impacts GDP level, to +36 %, if the impacts are rather on GDP growth. These results are then compared to the hypothetical environmental conditions faced by humanity, taking the last glacial maximum as a reference. The modeled impacts on the world's GDP appear strongly underestimated given the magnitude of climate and ecological changes recorded for that period. After discussing the weaknesses of the aggregated statistical approach to estimate economic damages, we conclude that, if these functions cannot reasonably be trusted for such a large cooling, they should also not be considered as providing relevant information on potential damages in the case of a warming of similar magnitude, as projected in the case of unabated greenhouse gas emissions.

Marie-Noëlle Woillez et al.

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Marie-Noëlle Woillez et al.

Marie-Noëlle Woillez et al.

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Latest update: 30 Sep 2020
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Short summary
To illustrate the fact that future economic damages from climate change are often highly underestimated, we applied two different statistically-based damage functions available in the literature to a global cooling of 4 °C. We show that the GDP projections obtained are qualitatively at odds with the state of our planet during the last ice age. Therefore, we conclude that such functions do not provide relevant information on potential damages of a large climate change, be it a cooling or a warming.
To illustrate the fact that future economic damages from climate change are often highly...
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