IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

20.6 Global and aggregate impacts

Three types of aggregate impacts are commonly reported. In the first, impacts are computed as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for a specified rise in global mean temperature. In the second, impacts are aggregated over time and discounted back to the present day along specified emissions scenarios such as those documented in Nakićenović and Swart (2000) under specified assumptions about economic development, changes in technology and adaptive capacity. Some of these estimates are made at the global level, but others aggregate a series of local or regional impacts to obtain a global total. A third type of estimate has recently attracted the most attention. Called the social cost of carbon (SCC), it is an estimate of the economic value of the extra (or marginal) impact caused by the emission of one more tonne of carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) at any point in time; it can, as well, be interpreted as the marginal benefit of reducing carbon emissions by one tonne. Researchers calculate SCC by summing the extra impacts for as long as the extra tonne remains in the atmosphere – a process which requires a model of atmospheric residence time and a means of discounting economic values back to the year of emission.

This section provides a brief discussion of the historical and current status of efforts to produce aggregate estimates of the impacts of climate change. The first sub-section focuses attention on economic estimates and the second begins to expand the discussion by reporting estimates calibrated in alternative metrics. It is in this expansion that the implications of spatial and temporal diversity in systems’ exposures and sensitivities to climate change begin to emerge.