Robustness in economic models with climate change

We are working on robust control in simple climate models coupled with economic growth, finance, and macro models. This effort is important for carbon pricing, understanding the impacts of robustly accounting for climate change, technical change, and other sources of uncertainty, not only on economic growth and macroeconomics, but also on asset prices as well as insurance pricing and green-house gas emission pricing.

Within the context of climate models are three contrasting approaches to robustness:

  • adapting to potential model misspecification
  • robustness adjustments for prior/posterior uncertainty
  • “smooth” models of ambiguity aversion

Decision theoretic frameworks exist for all of these applications, but their full consequences for economic models with climate change remains to be explored. To accomplish this we are developing numerical methods to support these analyses. In terms of discounting, our focal point is on the consequences of uncertainty. There is an extensive literature from asset pricing and macroeconomics that uses stochastic discounting as a device to adjust discount rates for cash flow riskiness. We are drawing on this literature and incorporating compensations for aversion to ambiguity and concerns about model misspecification into models that feature explicit uncertainty and climate impacts on the economy. We are also contrasting pricing implications from market economies with social valuation.

Coupled Economic-Climate Models with Carbon-Climate Response: The economics of global climate change is characterized by fundamental uncertainties including the appropriate reduced forms for climate dynamics, the specification of economic damages resulting from climate change, and mechanisms by which these damages will affect long-run economic growth. We have developed and implemented a novel theoretical and computational integrated assessment modeling approach that is a well-grounded means of summarizing the fundamental relationship between human activity and the global climate for purposes of economic analysis. Using a dynamic integrated assessment framework, this project makes several contributions to improving the analysis of these uncertainties:

  • First, we incorporate the cumulative climate response (CCR) function developed by Matthews et al. for representing the basic relationship between anthropogenic carbon emissions and increases in global mean temperature in a manner that is more directly policy relevant than the usual approach based on the equilibrium climate sensitivity.
  • Second, we adapt the tools developed by Hansen, Sargent and others for robustness analysis to address underlying model uncertainty in both economic and climate dynamics.
  • Third, we allow climate change to affect economic growth directly, in addition to its effect on output

We then develop and study a simple analytical model that yields insights and results on the key implications of these assumptions, as well as facilitating the interpretation of numerical results from a more general model. Among our findings is that the presence of robustness may result in either a decrease or increase in the optimal carbon tax and energy usage, depending among other factors on societal preferences.

Numerical Methods:  In order to perform robustness analysis over a variety of fundamentally different models, we are developing PDE-based numerical method for solving robust stochastic equilibrium models in continuous time with optimal control. This approach allows us to uncover solutions for the entire state space and to perform a quick sweep over variety of models and parameters.


Evan Anderson | William Brock | Lars Hansen  | Alan Sanstad  | Victor Zhorin


Botao Wu

Recent Publications