Our Approach

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 and community-by-community around the world. 

Climate change is already impacting our everyday lives. Record-breaking temperatures, melting ice on land and sea, more frequent coastal flooding, prolonged droughts, and damaging storms are just some of the intensifying risks we face as our globe continues to warm. And these changes are likely to accelerate over the next few decades, with implications for the health and welfare of every community around the world and the performance of every sector of the economy. 

To confront these challenges, business leaders, policymakers, investors, and other stakeholders need information about the nature of the risks they face. They are asking: what impact is climate change having on my supply chain, my investment,or my local community today? How will this change going forward? How can that risk be mitigated by reducing GHG emissions and investing in more resilient infrastructure and public health systems and other forms of adaptation? And, how much will it cost?

These questions remain largely unanswered at the level of detail and with the level of rigor required for effective decision-making. The Climate Impact Lab is changing that by leveraging a first-of-its-kind, evidence-based, data-driven approach to quantify the impacts and costs of climate change, sector-by-sector and 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.

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

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, and use big data analytical tools to find empirical evidence of how a changing climate has impacted society— 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 hyperlocal level.

Using the most comprehensive climate and economic data sets ever compiled, the Lab is estimating the relationship between a changing climate and human well-being across eight categories: human health, labor productivity, energy demand, agriculture, manufacturing, damage to coastal infrastructure, increased social conflict and crime, and altered migration patterns.

Estimating the social cost of carbon

In addition to providing localized climate risk information, the Lab is monetizing and aggregating these impacts to produce the world’s first empirically derived estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC)—the cost to society and the economy from each ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The SCC is an essential tool for incorporating climate impacts into cost-benefit analyses for policymaking, corporate planning, and investment decision-making in the US and around the world.
The Climate Impact Lab is working in direct partnership with key US states and central governments to improve the estimates and use of the SCC in policymaking. The models used to develop current SCC estimates omit various impacts because of a lack of precise information on the nature of damages, and because the science incorporated into these models naturally lags behind the most recent research. The Climate Impact Lab is working to incorporate the latest available science and economics, guided by recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This updated SCC estimate will be designed to feed directly into energy and climate policies around the world.