Gernot Wagner

Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Economics in the Faculty of Business, Columbia Business School

Faculty Affiliate, Center for Environmental Economics and Policy (CEEP)

Faculty Fellow, CESifo
Faculty Director, Climate Knowledge Initiative, Tamer Center for Social Enterprise
Board Member, CarbonPlan
Columnist, Project Syndicate

392 Kravis Hall
665 West 130th Street
New York, NY United States 10027
USA

BIOGRAPHY:

Gernot Wagner is a climate economist at Columbia Business School. His research, writing, and teaching focus on climate risks and climate policy. Gernot writes a monthly column for Project Syndicate and has written four books: Geoengineering: the Gamble, published by Polity (2021); Stadt, Land, Klima (“City, Country, Climate”), published, in German, by Brandstätter Verlag (2021); Climate Shock, joint with Harvard's Martin Weitzman and published by Princeton (2015), among others, a Top 15 Financial Times McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2015, and Austria’s Natural Science Book of the Year 2017; and But will the planet notice?, published by Hill & Wang/Farrar Strauss & Giroux (2011).

Prior to joining Columbia as senior lecturer and serving as faculty director of the Climate Knowledge Initiative, Gernot taught at NYU, Harvard, and Columbia. He was the founding executive director of Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program (2016 – 2019), and served as economist at the Environmental Defense Fund (2008 – 2016), most recently as lead senior economist (2014 – 2016) and member of its Leadership Council (2015 – 2016). He has been a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Senior Fellow at the Jain Family Institute, and is a CESifo Research Network Fellow, a Faculty Affiliate at the Columbia Center for Environmental Economics and Policy, a Member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a Coordinating Lead Author of the Austrian Panel on Climate Change, and he serves on the board of CarbonPlan.org.

RECENT POSTS FROM STATE OF THE PLANET

May 20, 2024

Heating up history: The 90s, a missed opportunity for climate change

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvF4unR_ZfA[/embed]
During this episode of Xennials, host Charlotte Kan explores the pivotal decade of the 1990s with Gernot Wagner, climate economist at Columbia Business School and a fellow xennial. Together, they explore the release of the first IPCC report that sparked a global wakeup call about the escalating dangers of greenhouse gas emissions and the critical steps needed to curb global warming. Gernot reflects on the 1989 Los Angeles Times headline that framed global warming as the decade’s hot issue, a prediction that was frighteningly accurate yet insufficiently heeded. We dive into the highs and lows of the 1990s’ climate initiatives, including the ambitious yet ultimately inadequate Kyoto Protocol. Gernot shares his personal evolution from a precocious teen grappling with the economic impacts of environmental policies to a leading expert navigating the complex interplay between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

May 17, 2024

Guardian: “Economic damage from climate change six times worse than thought”

“They have taken a step back and linking local impacts with global temperatures,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the work and said it was significant. “If the results hold up, and I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t, they will make a massive difference in the overall climate damage estimates.”
Both papers make clear that the cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels and curbing the impacts of climate change, while not trivial, pale in comparison to the cost of climate change itself. “Unmitigated climate change is a lot more costly than doing something about it, that is clear,” said Wagner.
Quoted in: "Economic damage from climate change six times worse than thought" by Oliver Milman, Guardian (17 May 2024).

May 15, 2024

Don’t Slam the Door on Inexpensive Chinese Electric Vehicles

By Gernot Wagner & Conor Walsh President Biden came out swinging this week when he announced a series of steep tariffs on Chinese imports, including 25 percent on certain steel and aluminum products, 50 percent on semiconductors and solar panels and 100 percent on electric vehicles. The administration’s official reason for the policy is simple: Chinese imports are undercutting American manufacturers in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And Mr. Biden wants to protect them from competition, as he pours huge amounts of government money into building up the manufacturing of electric vehicles and solar panels that can eventually compete with China’s inexpensive offerings. But the truth is, these new tariffs on electric vehicles are little more than a handout to legacy car companies like General Motors and Ford. Middle-class Americans should have access to these cars, and because of these tariffs, they will remain a luxury, available mainly to the rich. With more cash and better credit, wealthy Americans are the only ones who can afford the electric vehicles currently on the market, which cost over $55,000 on average. A recent survey found that 83 percent of E.V. drivers in the United States had a household income above $75,000, which is the median in the country; 57 percent had incomes above $100,000. Low-cost Chinese models that lower- and middle-income Americans could afford — like BYD’s Seagull, which runs for less than $10,000 — aren’t currently sold here largely because of tariffs over 25 percent. The new tariffs of 100 percent will make it even harder for these cars to compete in the U.S. market. The hope is that one day, U.S. automakers can offer Americans the low-cost electric cars they have long promised. But that’s still a long way off, in part because the companies (with the exception of Tesla) have been slow to scale up their E.V. production to the point where the costs could come down. (And Tesla, too, has scrapped plans to sell a car under $35,000.) Every electric vehicle sold still cuts into the profits they make from selling gasoline-powered vehicles, and General Motors and Ford together sold fewer than 150,000 E.V.s in 2023, a tiny fraction of the 15 million new cars sold in the United States last year. It is clear that American car manufacturers need to catch up to the competition, and fast. The problem with using tariffs to protect them from competition is that the companies then have less incentive to invest in new technologies. Chinese companies will continue making huge strides, selling their cars abroad while cutting off opportunities for American companies to export their own products to foreign markets. What’s more, Chinese cars could still enter the United States through the back door, if companies like BYD set up manufacturing plants in Mexico or Southeast Asia. We’ve been here before. In the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations worried about the fact that Japan was dumping cheap cars onto our market. The response then was voluntary export quotas, which allowed Japanese entry into the market in a way the new tariffs will not. Japanese competition ultimately forced U.S. car manufacturers to innovate. This time around, Chinese competition could have had a similar effect. This isn’t to say that the United States shouldn’t consider tariffs at all. There is a different kind of tariff focused on the greenhouse gas emissions created in making imported goods that would protect America’s nascent green economy and give consumers access to the cheaper clean cars and solar panels from China they want. The European Union will apply such carbon tariffs beginning in 2026, with prices now around $75 per ton of carbon dioxide, which will set an equal playing field for domestic manufacturers and importers alike. We could do the same in the United States. Carbon tariffs create all the right incentives: They encourage foreign manufacturers to decarbonize their products, leading to a virtuous cycle of lower prices and emissions. They also enjoy bipartisan support in the United States, from senators such as Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana. Both have introduced bills that would collect tariffs based on the carbon intensity of imports. The Biden administration is right that climate policies must work for the people of Detroit and Pittsburgh as much as they work for well-off Tesla drivers. But to accomplish these goals, it ought to be taxing China for its soaring carbon emissions, not for its electric vehicles and solar panels, which for now, at least, the United States needs badly. Given China’s soaring carbon emissions, carbon tariffs will be tough on the country, but for the right reasons. Gernot Wagner is a climate economist at Columbia Business School. Conor Walsh is a macroeconomist at the school. Published in The New York Times on May 15th, 2024. Related: Wagner, Gernot and Shang-Jin Wei. “The Right Response to China’s Electric-Vehicle Subsidies.” Project Syndicate, 5 April 2024.

May 07, 2024

Carbon Dioxide as a Risky Asset

Abstract:
We develop a financial-economic model for carbon pricing with an explicit representation of decision making under risk and uncertainty that is consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report. We show that risk associated with high damages in the long term leads to stringent mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions in the near term, and find that this approach provides economic support for stringent warming targets across a variety of specifications. Our results provide insight into how a systematic incorporation of climate-related risk influences optimal emissions abatement pathways. JEL Classification: G0, G12, Q51, Q54 Keywords: Climate risk, asset pricing, cost of carbon
Full paper: "Carbon dioxide as a Risky Asset" (Columbia CEEP Working Paper No. 23, CESifo Working Paper No. 10278; this version: 13 March 2024; published version) Code: github.com/adam-bauer-34/cap6, with some components taken from EZclimate. Citation: Bauer, Adam Michael, Cristian Proistosescu, and Gernot Wagner. "Carbon Dioxide as a Risky Asset," Climatic Change 177:72 (6 May 2024). doi: 10.1007/s10584-024-03724-3 Earlier versions: Columbia CEEP Working Paper No. 23, CESifo Working Paper No. 10278 (20 July 2023). Media: Jerusalem Post, Yale Climate Connections. Figure 1A as "Environmental Graphiti" art:

May 06, 2024

Christian Science Monitor: “Tesla news looks grim. But the bigger picture for EVs is a bright one.”

Given recent headlines, one might be excused for thinking electric vehicles are in trouble. From reports about Ford’s financial losses on its much-hyped electric F-150, to questions about the real eco-friendliness of EVs, to recent news of Tesla’s mass layoffs and questions about its supercharger program, the take-away seems to be that the electric revolution is stalling. But it’s not. The reality is that EV sales are growing rapidly, the technology is evolving briskly, and everyone from policymakers to auto executives to consumers is putting EVs at the center of long-term planning. Experts say a transition from a transportation sector based on the internal combustion engine to one that is electrified is all but inevitable. “The trajectory is clear,” says Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School. “None of this is ‘if’; it is ‘when.’”
Quoted in: "Tesla news looks grim. But the bigger picture for EVs is a bright one." by Stephanie Hanes, Christian Science Monitor (6 May 2024).

PUBLICATIONS

Books

Wagner, Gernot. Geoengineering: the Gamble (Polity Press, published on 24 September 2021 in the UK, 5 November 2021 in the U.S. and Canada); German: Und wenn wir einfach die Sonne verdunkeln? (oekom Verlag, 7 February 2023).

Wagner, Gernot. Stadt, Land, Klima (Chr. Brandstätter Verlag, 8 February 2021; written in German; English: “City, Country, Climate”).

Wagner, Gernot and Martin L. Weitzman. Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (Princeton University Press; 2015; paperback, 2016); Top 15 Financial Times McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2015; Austria’s Natural Science Book of the Year 2017.

Articles

Merk, Christine and Gernot Wagner. “Presenting balanced geoengineering information has little effect on mitigation engagement,” Climatic Change (forthcoming).

Kotchen, Matthew J., James A. Rising, and Gernot Wagner. “The costs of “costless” climate mitigation.” Science 382(6674): pp. 1001-3 (30 November 2023). doi: 10.1126/science.adj2453

Wagner, Gernot and Daniel Zizzamia “Green Moral Hazards.” Ethics, Policy & Environment 25(3): pp. 264-80 (September 2022). doi: 10.1080/21550085.2021.1940449

Dietz, Simon, James Rising, Thomas Stoerk, and Gernot Wagner. “Economic impacts of tipping points in the climate system,” PNAS (24 August 2021). doi: 10.1073/pnas.2103081118

Daniel, Kent D., Robert B. Litterman, and Gernot Wagner. “Declining CO2 price paths,” PNAS (1 October 2019). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1905755116

Reynolds, Jesse L. and Gernot Wagner. “Highly decentralized solar geoengineering.” Environmental Politics (2019). doi: 10.1080/09644016.2019.1648169

Kelleher, J. Paul and Gernot Wagner. “Ramsey discounting calls for subtracting climate damages from economic growth rates.” Applied Economics Letters 26 (1): 79-82 (2019). doi:10.1080/13504851.2018. 1438581

Kelleher, J. Paul and Gernot Wagner. “Prescriptivism, risk aversion, and intertemporal substitution in climate economics.” Annals of Economics and Statistics No. 132 (December 2018): 129-49.

Smith, Wake and Gernot Wagner. “Stratospheric aerosol injection tactics and costs in the first 15 years of deployment.” Environmental Research Letters 13 (2018) 124001. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aae98d.

Mahajan, Aseem, Dustin Tingley, and Gernot Wagner. “Fast, cheap, and imperfect? U.S. public opinion about solar geoengineering.” Environmental Politics (May 2018), doi:10.1080/09644016. 2018.1479101