Economists help to improve global warming forecasts

Thursday, 24 January, 2008

Climate scientists are collaborating with experts in economic theory to improve their forecasting models and assess more accurately the impact of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The climate modelling community has become increasingly aware that some of the statistical tools that could improve their modelling of climate change may already have been developed for econometric problems, which have some of the same features.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) brought these two communities together in a recent workshop, sowing the seeds for future collaboration.

“We achieved our goal of bringing together people from two very distant but equally valuable fields,” said the workshop’s co-convenor Peter Thejll.

“It was designed as a one-way session whereby econometricians were supposed to convey knowledge of econometric methods to the climate researchers.”

This has already proved highly valuable because economic and climate models require similar kinds of statistical analysis, both for example involving serial correlation where the aim is to predict the future value of a variable based on a starting value at an earlier point in time.

In economics such a variable might be the price of a commodity, while in climatology it might be temperature or atmospheric pressure. In both cases the variables change randomly during successive time intervals subject to varying constraints within a closely defined zone, and therefore can be analysed using similar ‘random walk’ techniques.

Thejll is confident the new-found cooperation with the econometric community will improve climate modelling and forecasting, but first there is a need to digest some of the new tools and ideas.

The aim is to introduce greater statistical sophistication into climate analysis, partly by understanding better the correlation between different aspects of change; for example, how one region impacts another.

One problem at present is that uncertainties are commonly underestimated, and this makes it very difficult to predict with much confidence even the broad climatic consequences or rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. But Thejll hopes and expects that by incorporating the key tools of econometric modelling, climate prediction will become much more accurate and valuable.

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