Climate action needs input of all scientists, not just economists

A dried up area of the River Loire in western France, on July 24, 2019.
A dried up area of the River Loire in western France, on July 24, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Economic thinking provides clarity in climate action, as Professor Mark Castelino has pointed out (Climate change: Scientists need the wisdom of economists, Aug 29).

However, I am puzzled by the dichotomy and examples he used.

On climate change, not all scientists and economists live in two different worlds.

For example, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consists of both economists and scientists.

Professor William Nordhaus was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics for "integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis".

In his 2013 analysis, he noted that contemporary economic studies generally do not include events like sea-level rise.

He acknowledged the systemic risk of these events by adding a 25 per cent adjustment upwards for monetised damages.

Some economists, such as Professor Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, have even argued that Prof Nordhaus is too conservative in his interpretation of climate risk.

Climate action will need the collective wisdom of scientists, social scientists and even philosophers.

Economic thinking should be only one of the factors for consideration.

From their viewpoint, economists should pay attention to the growing body of work in climate science to hedge against catastrophe.

In highlighting that climate action might delay development, Prof Castelino seems to suggest that all economists are biased towards the present.

This is debatable.

One can look at the contrasting works of Prof Nordhaus, who favours near-term market rates, and Prof Stern, who takes a longer intergenerational view.

Prof Castelino emphasised the morality of such decisions. He is right. Climate action will need the collective wisdom of scientists, social scientists and even philosophers.

Economic thinking should be only one of the factors for consideration.

Zach Lee Jian Lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'Climate action needs input of all scientists, not just economists'. Print Edition | Subscribe