Project Report:
Ocean System Damages and the Social Cost of Carbon
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Climate change poses myriad threats to oceans. The ocean provides critical services that are essential to human well-being, including food, biodiversity, non-use value, recreation, and tourism. However, ocean acidification and warming (OAW), which are driven by the oceans absorbing emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) and climate change, are having significant detrimental impacts on these systems. While these impacts have substantial economic value, OAW has yet to be incorporated into estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC). The SCC is a metric intended to reflect the damages, in dollars, stemming from an incremental ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere. The SCC is used by federal policymakers and others as a measure of the benefits of mitigating carbon emissions. To address this important gap for policymaking, RFF will convene an interdisciplinary group of experts in a series of virtual workshops to study how researchers might go about incorporating OAW damages into the SCC.

caldeira coral reefs at 450ppm.PNG


The goal of this project is to convene experts in climate change’s impacts on ocean systems to identify research needs required to incorporate those impacts into the social cost of carbon. To do so, RFF organized 3 virtual workshops of approximately 2-3 dozen researchers with relevant biophysical and economic expertise. The three workshops were held from 12-2pm ET on October 27, November 17, and December 1. In the first workshop, RFF presented the details of the Greenhouse Gas Impact Value Estimator (GIVE) model, including a deep dive into the existing “damage functions” to serve as examples of what it means to build a damage function. The second workshop was focused on modeling climate change’s impacts on coral reefs, which started with opening remarks from Ken Caldeira and Luke Brander, followed by a robust discussion. The third workshop was focused on climate change’s impacts on fisheries, which started with opening remarks from Chris Moore and William Cheung, once again followed by robust discussion.

Workshop participants highlighted many varied impacts to consider, including factors such as temperature extremes (rather than only averages), path dependencies, adaptation, and regional variation in impacts. For the final stage of this project, RFF will write a report summarizing key insights derived from the workshops.

brander modeling ecosystem services.PNG


The project is encouraging discussion and further exploration of the economic effects of the impacts of climate change on ocean systems, such as biodiversity losses, fishery impacts, non-use value, coral reefs, and recreation/tourism. Further, the Social Cost of Carbon is an important metric that, in quantifying the cost of emissions, can support market-based solutions to mitigating those emissions. It is used by federal, state and local policymakers to evaluate the benefits of potential policies against the potential cost of regulation. It is also frequently used by corporations to evaluate the impact of their own proactive efforts to address climate change, and can inform markets for carbon offsets, or tradable certificates linked to activities that lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


The audience for this project is primarily decisionmakers at national level in the United States and the broader global research community around the Social Cost of Carbon. However, the work has important implications for other stakeholders at the local level and around the world.

Amount Approved
$56,000.00 on 6/8/2023 (Check sent: 6/21/2023)

caldeira coral reefs at 450ppm.PNG
brander modeling ecosystem services.PNG

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Andrew Gossett
Director, Foundation Engagement, Resources for the Future

Posted 3/30/2023 11:55 AM
Updated   12/11/2023 11:01 AM

  • Nonprofit

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