A Policymaker’s Guide to Climate Economics: Questions to Ask

NCSL Resources

NCSL Contacts

EarthJune 2011

Although major U.S. scientific bodies agree human activity is contributing to climate change, debate about how best to mitigate the environmental and economic impacts continues. Regardless of the cause, climatologists are forecasting an increase in severe weather, flooding, droughts, temperatures, sea levels and poor air quality as a result of climate change. The nation’s ability to adapt to these changes may affect the U.S. economy for decades to come.

Climate change economics is unique. Its long time scale, uncertainties and varied effects across regions and generations make it a challenge to assess costs and benefits. Economists aim to determine how much and how fast policymakers should react by estimating economic and environmental effects.

Many are concerned about the high initial costs of mitigation policies, but actual costs and benefits, such as avoiding damage, remain uncertain. Scientific projections of temperature increases vary, as do economic determinants such as population growth and industry development. Lawmakers face diverse recommendations for climate change policies and will want to understand how different assumptions can influence the forecasts that inherently drive policy proposals.

This brief guideline describes how assumptions can dramatically influence climate change policy and outlines questions lawmakers can ask to better understand the implications of climate change mitigation modeling.

Pdf logoTo view PDF files, the following is a link to install Adobe Acrobat Reader