Climate dynamics professor co-authors report assessing cost of climate change

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chris Forest, associate professor of climate dynamics at Penn State, was co-author of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report recommending new methods for estimating the social cost of carbon emissions worldwide.

According to the report, "Valuing Climate Damages: Assessing Approaches to Updating the Social Cost of Carbon," new practices would strengthen the scientific basis, provide greater transparency and improve characterization of uncertainties over the current estimates. The social cost of carbon is a dollar estimate of the net global damages incurred per metric ton of carbon emissions in a given year.

The report enhances changes to a method developed in 2010 by the federal Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases by highlighting four components of analysis: socioeconomic and emissions projections, climate modeling, estimation of climate impacts and damages, and discounting net financial damages. The report also suggests long-term improvements that could be made to update on a regular basis the social cost of carbon emissions.

Government agencies use the estimated cost when analyzing the impacts of various regulations, including standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy, regulation of emissions from power plants and energy efficiency standards for appliances.

“The overall role of this report is to provide guidance on how the federal government can make more informed decisions when making regulatory analyses," said Forest. "Ultimately, accounting for the impacts of climate change is required for long-term planning in the government, business and all areas of society. I hope this report will help serve this purpose."

Forest, an expert on the uncertainty and integration aspects of climate modeling, contributed his knowledge on modeling the long-term response in the Earth system to future emissions while also considering computational efficiency of the overall modeling system.

“A strong tension exists between the complexity required to represent the details and the simplicity to run thousands of scenarios,” said Forest.

The climate module must provide changes on a regional and global scale in response to climate forcings, and also be able to capture the basic physics, chemistry and biology of the Earth system by representing the detailed processes, interactions and feedbacks of the atmosphere, oceans, land and ice components. 

The report provides analysis on how these complex climate variables interact and are further shaped by society, economics and other factors, to generate different possible futures. Accounting for these interactions in the overall framework is important but difficult to capture with simple models, said Forest. 

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine.

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Last Updated February 03, 2017