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Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis

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Integrated assessment of climate change: state of the literature

John Weyant
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  • Department of Management Science and Engineering, Room 260, Huang Engineering Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4026, USA
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Published Online: 2015-01-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbca-2014-9002


This paper reviews applications of benefit-cost analysis (BCA) in climate policy assessment at the US national and global scales. Two different but related major application types are addressed. First there are global-scale analyses that focus on calculating optimal global carbon emissions trajectories and carbon prices that maximize global welfare. The second application is the use of the same tools to compute the social cost of carbon (SCC) for use in US regulatory processes. The SCC is defined as the climate damages attributable to an increase of one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions above a baseline emissions trajectory that assumes no new climate policies. The paper describes the three main quantitative models that have been used in the optimal carbon policy and SCC calculations and then summarizes the range of results that have been produced using them. The results span an extremely broad range (up to an order of magnitude) across modeling platforms as well as across the plausible ranges of input assumptions to a single model. This broad range of results sets the stage for a discussion of the five key challenges that face BCA practitioners participating in the national and global climate change policy analysis arenas: (1) including the possibility of catastrophic outcomes; (2) factoring in equity and income distribution considerations; (3) addressing intertemporal discounting and intergenerational equity; (4) projecting baseline demographics, technological change, and policies inside and outside the energy sector; and (5) characterizing the full set of uncertainties to be dealt with and designing a decision-making process that updates and adapts new scientific and economic information into that process in a timely and productive manner. The paper closes by describing how the BCA models have been useful in climate policy discussions to date despite the uncertainties that pervade the results that have been produced.

Keywords: benefit-cost analysis; climate change; integrated assessment; optimal carbon emissions; social cost of carbon


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About the article

Corresponding author: John Weyant, Department of Management Science and Engineering, Room 260, Huang Engineering Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4026, USA, Phone: +1 650 723 0645, Fax: +1 650 723 3506, e-mail:

Published Online: 2015-01-13

Published in Print: 2014-12-01

Citation Information: Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Volume 5, Issue 3, Pages 377–409, ISSN (Online) 2152-2812, ISSN (Print) 2194-5888, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbca-2014-9002.

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