Environment: the work of Nordhaus, economics Nobel laureate, under the fire of criticism

Environnement: les travaux de Nordhaus, prix Nobel d'économie, sous le feu des critiques

PARIS | He was awarded the Nobel prize for having highlighted the impact of climate change on economic activity, but, almost paradoxically, the work of William Nordhaus, now service the environmental cause, believe economists and climatologists.

Winner in 2018 the price of the Bank of Sweden in economic sciences — the fancy name for what is, in reality, the Nobel laureate of economics, William Nordhaus, had been distinguished for “integrated climate change in the macro-economic analysis of the long-term.”

And this, as a number of speeches continue to oppose economic progress and environmental protection.

“If he had won the Nobel prize twenty years ago, it would have helped the climate policy”, concedes Gernot Wagner, who has spent the last decade forging an alternative approach to the economics of climate change.

“But the fact that he won two years ago is, in many respects, a step backwards”, do judge it not less.

The model of William Nordhaus — DICE, or Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy — “is so defective that it should not be taken seriously”, insists even Joseph Stiglitz, himself a Nobel prize for economics in 2001. “This is dangerous, because we have no other planet where to go if we get it wrong. The message he transmits is unwise”, he said to the AFP.

There are nearly half a century, the american economist was one of the first to understand the impact of environmental degradation on the economy.

But when he receives the Nobel prize in 2018, his models are no longer in phase with the gallop rhythm of the warming or with the new approaches in the field of the economy, according to experts.

3 degrees

His most recent works conclude that the limitation of global warming below 3 °C would cost more in terms of economic growth than it would pay in damages avoided.

His reasoning is the following: if the global economy grows, corporations are getting richer and can develop technologies to cope with climate change.

“This is simply not the science of climate’, ensures the AFP Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for research on climate impacts. “It is a clear conclusion in the natural sciences that a warming of 3 degrees is a disastrous outcome for humanity.”

Contacted by AFP, William Nordhaus, has refused to “respond individually to questions detailing these criticisms.

“We have not, outside of the european Union, taken any measure, even minimal, to slow down climate change during this century”, he said. “We need national mechanisms (such as taxes on the carbon support and technology), and international co-operation (such as a covenant on the carbon). It is to this point my efforts today”.

Beyond the quarrel of academic works of the Nobel prize have a strong influence on the policy-makers, including its calculation of the “social cost of carbon”, which quantifies the damages of climate change.

According to many scientists, this calculation under-estimates greatly the costs. Not to mention that the idea of a temperature rise of “acceptable” of 3 degrees is going against a consensus international policy painfully established.

The treaty of Paris climate 2015 provides the effect of maintaining the rise in temperatures “well below” 2 °C relative to preindustrial levels, while the group of experts of the united Nations on climate change (Ipcc) has concluded, in a report released the day, Mr. Nordhaus has received his Nobel prize, that 1.5 °C would be a safeguard a lot more secure.


Mr Rockström, his ideas now give arguments to the skeptics of the climate”. He claims to have heard the reasoning of the Nobel prize taken by the “leaders of Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, the automotive industry and energy companies”.

However, since the work of the founders of William Nordhaus, tens of thousands of climate studies have been published, arriving at the conclusion that not only the global warming is progressing more quickly than we thought, but also that its effects, on the basis of certain thresholds, are irreversible.

“Extreme events such as hurricanes, fires, droughts that have been so evident in recent years — all of these things are really not taken into account adequately in his analysis,” notes Joseph Stiglitz.

“No wealth can reconstruct an ice sheet and the dislocation of hundreds of billions of people will lead to unrest and conflict massive”, said Michael Mann, director of the Centre for earth system science at the University of the State of Pennsylvania.

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