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Climate change and the macro economy

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The ECB occasional paper reviews how climate change and policies to address it may affect the macro economy in ways that are relevant for central banks’ monetary policy assessment of the inflation outlook. To this end, the paper focuses on the potential channels through which climate change and the policy and technological responses to climate change could have an impact on the real economy. In order to implement mitigation policies political economy obstacles will need to be overcome and measures will need to be put in place that address underlying market failures. They could involve significant fiscal implications, with an increased price of carbon contributing to higher overall prices.

European Central Bank – Occasional Paper Series
17 June 2020
Source: European Central Bank

Authors:
Malin Andersson, Claudio Baccianti, Julian Morgan

Climate change and the macro economy

Abstract:

This Occasional Paper reviews how climate change and policies to address it may affect the macro economy in ways that are relevant for central banks’ monetary policy assessment of the inflation outlook. To this end, the paper focuses on the potential channels through which climate change and the policy and technological responses to climate change could have an impact on the real economy. Overall, the existing literature suggests a likelihood that climate change will have demand-side implications, but will also cause a negative supply shock in the decades to come and may even have the potential to lead to widespread disruption to the economic and financial system. We may already be observing a rise in the costs resulting from an increased incidence of extreme weather conditions. The direct effects stemming from climate change are likely to increase gradually over time as global temperatures increase. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable estimates of the overall macroeconomic impact of climate change, which will also depend on the extent to which it can be brought under control through mitigation policies requiring major structural changes to the economy. In order to implement such policies political economy obstacles will need to be overcome and measures will need to be put in place that address underlying market failures. They could involve significant fiscal implications, with an increased price of carbon contributing to higher overall prices. At the same time, these measures could also foster innovation, generate fiscal revenues and dampen inflationary pressures as energy efficiency increases and the price of renewable energy falls.

Summary:

This Occasional Paper reviews how climate change and the policies to address it may affect the macro economy in ways that are relevant for central banks’ monetary policy assessment of the inflation outlook. To this end, it reviews the evidence regarding the potential channels of transmission and economic impacts of climate change, as well as climate mitigation policies with potential significance for macroeconomic policymakers. The literature focuses almost exclusively on the implications for economic analysis, whereas other issues of potential relevance for a central bank, for instance relating to monetary policy, financial stability and banking supervision, are not covered to a significant extent.

The potential direct economic impacts of climate change are wide-ranging and potentially substantial. Direct impacts can be expected in agriculture and fisheries, as well as in other sectors, such as energy, tourism, construction and insurance. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with no further mitigation actions, global temperature rises of 1.5-4°C may lower global real GDP by 1.0 – 3.3% by 2060 and by 2 – 10% by 2100. However, model-based estimates are very uncertain and can be challenged in relation to their underlying assumptions and because they may ignore important (possibly non-linear) impacts and understate key risks. While the near-term trend impacts of climate change may remain muted, as the rise in global temperatures is a gradual process, its effects may be felt earlier in the form of rising costs associated with extreme weather events. Moreover, early policy efforts to address climate change may imply large up-front costs, but are likely to reduce long-term costs.

Major structural change is required to combat global climate change. This means that government policy intervention is needed to overcome market failures and political economy challenges. Focusing on Europe, the European Union (EU) aims to become a net zero greenhouse gas emissions economy by 2050. A key policy in support of this aim was the creation of a market-based carbon-price through an emissions trading system (EU-ETS). However, the EU-ETS does not (yet) appear to be sending a consistent signal to investors, as the price of carbon fell significantly after 2008, although it has recently recovered. Governments have also chosen to subsidise renewable and nuclear energy, usually in the form of fixed payments for a set period of time, with rates differing according to the technology supported.

Major investment in climate mitigation is already underway to decarbonise electricity generation and increase energy efficiency, but a lot more needs to be done to decarbonise the economy. New climate abatement measures will also be needed to prepare for sea level rise and more extreme weather patterns. Further innovation is also required if decarbonisation is to be achieved at a manageable cost. While innovation has already led to sharply falling renewable energy costs, energy storage could be improved and the use of electricity in transport extended.

The positive macro impact of mitigation measures could be held back by risk aversion but boosted by innovation spillovers. Renewable energy has a very different cost structure to conventional fossil fuels and needs substantial up-front capital expenditure. Investors may be wary about lending to renewable energy projects if they perceive them as risky – for instance owing to uncertainties regarding government policy – or if they lack knowledge about this relatively new sector. However, there may be scope for innovation in new clean technologies to spill over to the rest of the economy and support growth. While R&D spending on energy appears low, the rapid deployment of renewable energy may be stimulating innovation through “learning by doing”. The deployment of such technologies continues to exceed expectations.

Climate change policies require a larger role for state intervention, partly through fiscal measures. However, the net impact on public finances is unclear. The process of internalising the negative environmental externality of CO2 emissions could raise additional revenues, particularly if implemented through new carbon taxes. At the same time, abatement and mitigation measures may imply a need for either additional government expenditure or the crowding out of other public investment spending.

Inflation may be pushed up by measures to raise the price of carbon, although this may be offset by falling prices for renewable energy and as a result of increased energy efficiency. Market-based emissions trading or new taxes on high-carbon (particularly fossil fuel-based) activities may cause prices to rise. However, this could be offset by further innovation in renewable energy (which would lower electricity prices) and higher energy efficiency, both of which could reduce the weight of energy in the consumption basket.

There is also a risk that climate change may lead to widespread disruption to the economic and financial system. An unexpectedly abrupt change in government policy or further disruption from technological progress in renewable technologies could cause a very rapid move away from fossil fuels, with diverging impacts across sectors. In turn, this could cause a (possibly sharp) fall in physical capital values and a drop in asset prices, which could potentially have broader macroeconomic impacts.

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