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Introduction to a special issue entitled Perspectives on Implementing Benefit-Cost Analysis in Climate Assessment

Fran Sussman, Anne Grambsch, Jia Li and Christopher P. Weaver


Over the past half-century or more, economists have developed a robust literature on the theory and practice of benefit-cost analysis (BCA) as applied to diverse projects and policies. Recent years have seen a growing demand for practical applications of BCA to climate change policy questions. As economists seek to meet this demand, they face challenges that arise from the nature of climate change impacts, such as the long time frame and the potential for non-marginal changes, the importance of intangible effects, and the need to grapple with Knightian uncertainty. As a result of these and other characteristics of climate change, many of the fundamental tenets of BCA are coming under scrutiny and the limits of BCA’s methodological and practical boundaries are being tested. This special issue assembles a set of papers that review the growing body of literature on the economics of climate change. The papers describe the state of the literature valuing climate change impacts, both globally and at more disaggregated levels. The papers also discuss the challenges economists face in applying BCA to support climate change decision making and adaptation planning. This introduction provides background and context on the current use of BCA in climate change analysis, and sets each paper firmly in that context, identifying also areas for future research. While the challenges in conducting BCA and interpreting its results are significant, across the papers it becomes clear that economic analysis in general, and the tools and methods of BCA in particular, have a central role to play in supporting decision-making about how to respond to climate change.

Corresponding author: Fran Sussman, ICF International, 1725 Eye Street, N.W., Washington, DC, 20006, USA, Tel.: +202 862 1200, e-mail:


We would like to thank the journal editors for helpful suggestions, and also thank the authors of the papers in this Special Issue who provided insights and thoughtful suggestions throughout. All errors are of course only our own. Editorial assistance was provided by Brad Hurley, Tara Hamilton, and John Snyder of ICF International. We acknowledge the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, Contract EP-W-09-030. The views expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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Published Online: 2015-1-13
Published in Print: 2014-12-1

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