Dr. Willi Semmler on Combating Climate Change

Numerous reports by the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) highlight the latest research related to climate change. Economics and policy experts have further engaged with these findings through SCEPA’s Economics of Climate Change Project. Project Director, Willi Semmler co-authored The Oxford Handbook of the Macroeconomics of Global Warming, and discussions with experts such as Mark Jacobson, Ottmar Edenhofer, Pavel Kabat, and Michael Oppenheimer have offered scientific evidence alongside foundations for a way forward.
Conclusive evidence shows that carbon intensive energy emissions are a primary contributor to the changing global climate. Compared to the pre-industrialization period, the global average temperature has risen by 0.8°C.
This slow but steady increase has led to increased weather extremes and climate disasters. By the end of the century, a 2-4°C temperature increase will cause significant sea level rise (largely depending on collapse of Greenland Ice shields), disappearing of the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice (next 10 years or sooner), and a collapse of ocean circulations is likely to occur (see Keller et. al in Bernard and Semmler). It is also very likely that major regions of the earth will observe an increase in the number and intensity of heat waves, draughts and desert formation, and crises of food production. Climate change will lead to increased intensity of tropical storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and other weather extremes. Some climate scientists predict tipping points with further long run impacts on ecosystems, water supply, costal conditions, health, productivity of agriculture and food supply, and working conditions.
Recent research shows that there is a limited carbon budget that earth’s atmosphere can absorb without producing further dangerous trends of global warming. In 2011 there was a 1,000 gigatons (billion metric tons) CO2 budget, which would keep temperature rise within 2°C. However, there are still 15,000 gigatons of fossil fuels left in the earth, and many countries around the globe still operate coal mines and pursue extraction of oil and gas.
International cooperation is crucial to forging a better way forward. The Paris Agreement, in December 2015, aimed to restrict temperature rise to 2°C and if possible to stay below the 1.5°C rise. In order to reach this goal, policies implemented must help avoid reaching the carbon budget by limiting the use of fossil fuels, distributing the remaining carbon budget amongst countries and regions, and guiding the transition to renewable energy.
Combating climate change, with all of its causes and long run economic, social and ecological impacts, has become a task not only for academia, policy makers and business practitioners. Enthusiastic support for solutions to the climate change crisis has come from art and culture, a great example being Combo Nuvo’s new piece, “One World Suite.”


Dr. Willi Semmler is the Arnhold Professor of International Cooperation and Development at the New School for Social Research where he teaches a course on the Economics of Climate Change. He is also a Research Associate at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, as well as the Center for European Exonomic Research. In addition, he is the author of several books and articles. More on Dr. Semmler can be found on his New School faculty profile.

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