Evolution of Assessments of the Economics of Global Warming: Changes in the DICE model, 1992 – 2017

W. D. Nordhaus

April 2017

National Bureau of Economic Research

DOI: 10.3386/w23319

Many areas of the natural and social sciences involve complex systems that link together multiple sectors. Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are approaches that integrate knowledge from two or more domains into a single framework, and these are particularly important for climate change. One of the earliest IAMs for climate change was the DICE/RICE family of models, first published in Nordhaus (1992), with the latest version in Nordhaus (2017, 2017a). A difficulty in assessing IAMs is the inability to use standard statistical tests because of the lack of a probabilistic structure. In the absence of statistical tests, the present study examines the extent of revisions of the DICE model over its quarter-century history. The study finds that the major revisions have come primarily from the economic aspects of the model, whereas the environmental changes have been much smaller. Particularly sharp revisions have occurred for global output, damages, and the social cost of carbon. These results indicate that the economic projections are the least precise parts of IAMs and deserve much greater study than has been the case up to now, especially careful studies of long-run economic growth (to 2100 and beyond).

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