Our Approach

Leveraging a first-of-its-kind, evidence-based, data-driven approach to quantify climate impacts — both past and future — using historical climate and socioeconomic data from around the world to understand the relationship between climate and society.

The Climate Impact Lab’s team of economists, climate scientists, data engineers, and risk analysts are building the world’s most comprehensive body of research quantifying the impacts of climate change sector-by-sector, community-by-community around the world. This research will allow decision-makers in the public and private sectors to understand the risks climate change presents and mitigate those risks through smarter investments and public policy. The research will also produce the world’s first empirically-derived estimate of the social cost of carbon — the cost to society from each ton of carbon dioxide emitted. This figure can serve as the basis for energy and climate policies.

An evidence-based approach

To project the future costs of climate change, the Climate Impact Lab looks first to historical, real-world experience. The Lab’s researchers combine historical socioeconomic and climate data, allowing the team to discover how a changing climate has impacted humanity—from the ways in which extended droughts have affected agricultural productivity in California to the ways in which heat waves have impacted mortality in India and labor productivity in China. Understanding these relationships allows the Lab to produce evidence-based insights about the real-world impacts of future climate change using projections of temperature, precipitation, humidity, and sea-level changes around the world at a subnational scale—from U.S. counties to Chinese provinces.

The Climate Impact Lab has developed a ground-breaking approach that uses detailed historical climate data to derive actionable information about the future.

Combining local climate projections with historical observations yields a highly localized picture of future climate impacts. Cutting-edge research has identified ways in which changes to climatic conditions – such as abnormally warm summers – reduce economic activity, damage food production systems, increase social conflict, and generate migrants. The Lab employs detailed, risk-based, probabilistic, local climate projections to analyze how these impacts may evolve in the years ahead as a result of a changing climate. The analysis seeks to capture the economic risks of low-probability, high-impact climate events as well as the changes most likely to occur in the future. These impacts will also be monetized and aggregated to produce the world’s first empirically-derived estimate of the social cost of carbon — the cost to society done by each ton of carbon dioxide we emit — which will be designed to be fed directly into energy and climate policies around the world.

Our analytical process is divided into three distinct components:

  1. Gather Detailed Global Data: The first step is an unprecedented effort to aggregate highly localized historical data across key social, economic, and climate indicators, including sea-level rise, temperature, precipitation, and humidity.
  2. Assess Climate-Driven Economic Changes: We analyze millions of historical observations culled from a surge in recent academic research to understand and quantify the relationship between a changing climate and social welfare across six principle categories, including: mortality, labor productivity, agriculture, conflict, infrastructure, and energy demand.
  3. Inform Decision-Making at the Macro and Micro Levels: Using this empirical analysis, we project how changes in the climate will impact society and the economy in the future. The climate-driven impacts are also monetized and aggregated to produce an empirically-derived estimate of the social cost of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).

A commitment to openness and collaboration

The Lab is committed to ensuring that our work is open and available to a wide range of stakeholders to access and contribute to over time. The information gathered as a result of our local assessments of climate impacts will be accessible through a web-based platform that allows the resulting estimates of climate and economic impacts to evolve dynamically as research proceeds. Researchers from around the world will be able to contribute to our platform, making it a central input into climate change assessments and plans worldwide.

Adaptation & risk assessment

A novel, web-based climate-risk planning platform will allow policymakers, business owners and investors, community planners, and a range of other stakeholders to better manage and adapt to climate change. As a dynamic crowdsourcing tool, our platform will allow researchers from around the world to contribute to it and will dynamically update to include additional sectors and regions as new knowledge is uncovered — enhancing the evidence base on climate impacts broadly as researchers become part of the network.

Additionally, the highly customizable tool will accelerate the pipeline from research to real-world impact, providing immediate information to guide climate adaptation planning and other decisions. For example, users will be able to see the costs of infrastructure damage due to storms and sea-level rise along their coastline, the link between temperatures and public health in the urban area where they live, the drop in labor productivity because of extreme heat, and the need for new crop rotations on their farm to mitigate damage from droughts or flooding.

From California to New York, leaders stress that they cannot make decisions on issues ranging from energy and agricultural to infrastructure investment without continued, reliable information on the expected costs of climate.

Evidence-based estimates of the social cost of carbon

In many countries, estimates of the social cost of carbon (SCC) ­– the economic value of incremental reductions in carbon dioxide emissions – inform the design of energy and climate regulations. In the U.S., for example, estimates of the SCC have played a key role in establishing the stringency of appliance efficiency standards, fuel economy standards, and power plant regulations. Using the Lab’s empirically derived, data-driven approach to assessing the costs of future climate change, we are pioneering a new framework for generating SCC estimates grounded in observed economic behavior. Informed by the deep experience several Lab experts have with U.S. and international climate policy, this framework bridges cutting-edge econometrics and the current practice of regulatory policy design.