An Economist’s Guide to Climate Change Science

Hsiang, Solomon, and Robert E. Kopp. 2018. “An Economist’s Guide to Climate Change Science.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32 (4): 3-32DOI: 10.1257/jep.32.4.3


This article provides a brief introduction to the physical science of climate change, aimed towards economists. We begin by describing the physics that controls global climate, how scientists measure and model the climate system, and the magnitude of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide. We then summarize many of the climatic changes of interest to economists that have been documented and that are projected in the future. We conclude by highlighting some key areas in which economists are in a unique position to help climate science advance. An important message from this final section, which we believe is deeply underappreciated among economists, is that all climate change forecasts rely heavily and directly on economic forecasts for the world. On timescales of a half-century or longer, the largest source of uncertainty in climate science is not physics, but economics.