12 Dec 2013

OU brings economics into the heart of calculating climate change

Assessing the economic impact of climate change – as well as the environmental – is to be made easier thanks to a new EU-funded project led by researchers at The Open University.

The project will create a new modelling framework which will help overcome the complication of trying to consider economic factors alongside detailed climate and land models. The three-year project, which involves seven other institutions, will enable policy-makers to boil down the environmental and the economic models to their simplest form to create a more balanced picture and help make decisions that take in both points of view.

The impact of the project could be seen in assessing major issues of global impact such as energy, water supply or crops and provide a clearer more transparent picture, says Dr Neil Edwards, of the OU’s Environment, Earth and Ecosystems department and the university’s project lead.

For example, looking at the key issue of groundwater, the model which the team has designed would be able to make a better assessment of whether it is going to be there in 50 years’ time or how much it could diminish.

The project, called Enhancing Robustness and Model Integration for the Assessment of Global Environment Change (ERMITAGE) makes it practical for the first time to analyse the feedbacks of climate change on market prices and environmental policy.

Dr Edwards said:
“Climate prediction models are very slow, so what the OU has done is make versions of climate models that run in a few seconds and our integrated modelling framework means they can finally be run alongside models of economic systems. Taking something like global crop production, it is very difficult to figure out how trade interacts with the climate change implications on crops, yet this is essential to address the competition between food, biofuels and forest conservation.”

Whilst this may be just a small step in the huge field of climate change research, Dr Edwards added it could help to make future decisions more holistic by incorporating aspects of human behavioural choices.

“Long ago we were able to bring the natural components of climate change – the atmosphere and the oceans – together for consideration; currently we have the atmosphere and the ecosystems connecting. It is my hope that in the future the climate change and the economic systems will be connected equally closely.”

All partners in the project are already using the model tools and it is hoped that future research can build further on this more integrated approach.

Notes to editors
Media contact for The Open University: Christine Drabwell, / 01908 654316


ERMITAGE, began in December 2010 and was funded by the EU Seventh Framework (FP7) and completed in November 2013. ERMITAGE has developed emulators, simplified versions of the more complicated models to carry out multiple simulations more rapidly, while retaining accuracy. The other partners are: Ordecsys Sarl, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, University of East Anglia, Eneris Environment Energy Consultants SL, Postdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung, The University of Manchester and STFC Daresbury Laboratory.

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