Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Multicointegration Model of Global Climate Change

We have a new working paper out on time series econometric modeling of global climate change. We use a multicointegration model to estimate the relationship between radiative forcing and global surface temperature since 1850. We estimate that the equilibrium climate sensitivity to doubling CO2 is 2.8ºC – which is close to the consensus in the climate science community – with a “likely” range from 2.1ºC to 3.5ºC.* This is remarkably close to the recently published estimate of Cox et al. (2018).

Our paper builds on my previous research on this topic. Together with Robert Kaufmann, I pioneered the application of econometric methods to climate science – Richard Tol was another early researcher in this field. Though we managed to publish a paper in Nature early on (Kaufmann and Stern, 1997), I became discouraged by the resistance we faced from the climate science community. But now our work has been cited in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report and recently there is also a lot of interest in the topic among econometricians. This has encouraged me to get involved in this research again.

We wrote the first draft of this paper for a conference in Aarhus, Denmark on the econometrics of climate change in late 2016 and hope it will be included in a special issue of the Journal of Econometrics based on papers from the conference. I posted some of our literature review on this blog back in 2016.

Multicointegration models, first introduced by Granger and Lee (1989), are designed to model long-run equilibrium relationships between non-stationary variables where there is a second equilibrium relationship between accumulated deviations from the first relationship and one or more of the original variables. Such a relationship is typically found for flow and stock variables. For example, Granger and Lee (1989) examine production, sales, and inventory in manufacturing, Engsted and Haldrup (1999) housing starts and unfinished stock, Siliverstovs (2006) consumption and wealth, and Berenguer-Rico and Carrion-i-Silvestre (2011) government deficits and debt. Multicointegration models allow for slower adjustment to long-run equilibrium than do typical econometric time series models because of the buffering effect of the stock variable.

In our model there is a long-run equilibrium between radiative forcing, f, and surface temperature, s:
The equilibrium climate sensitivity is given by 5.35*ln(2)/lambda. But because of the buffering effect of the ocean, surface temperature takes a long time to reach equilibrium. The deviations from equilibrium, q, represent a flow of heat from the surface to (mostly) the ocean. The accumulated flows are the stock of heat in the Earth system, Q. Surface temperature also tends towards equilibrium with this stock of heat:
where u is a (serially correlated but stationary) random error. Granger and Lee simply embedded both these long-run relations in a vector autoregressive (VAR) time series model for s and f. A somewhat more recent and much more powerful approach (e.g. Engsted and Haldrup, 1999) notes that:
where F is accumulated f and S is accumulated s. In other words, S(2) = s(1)+s(2), S(3) = s(1)+s(2)+s(3) etc. This means that we can estimate a model that takes into account the accumulation of heat in the ocean without using any actual data on ocean heat content (OHC) ! One reason that this is exciting, is because OHC data is only available since 1940 and data for the early decades is very uncertain. Only since 2000 is there a good measurement network in place. This means that we can use temperature and forcing data back to 1850 to estimate the heat content. Another reason that this is exciting is that F and S are so-called second order integrated variables (I(2)) and estimation with I(2) variables, though complicated, is super-super consistent – it is easier to get an accurate estimate of a parameter despite noise and measurement error issues in a relatively small sample. The I(2) approach combines the 2nd and 3rd equations above into a single relationship which it embeds in a VAR model that we estimate using Johansen's maximum likelihood method. The CATS package which runs on top of RATS can estimate such models as can the Oxmetrics econometrics suite. The data we used in the paper is available here.

This graph compares our estimate of OHC (our preferred estimate is the partial efficacy estimate) with an estimate from an energy balance model (Marvel et al., 2016) and observations of ocean heat content (Cheng et al, 2017):

We think that the results are quite good, given that we didn't use any data on OHC to estimate it and that the observed OHC is very uncertain in the early decades. In fact, our estimate cointegrates with these observations and the estimated coefficient is close to what is expected from theory. The next graph shows the energy balance:

The red area is radiative forcing relative to the base year. This is now more than 2.5 watts per square meter – doubling CO2 is equivalent to a 3.7 watt per square meter increase. The grey line is surface temperature. The difference between the top of the red area and the grey line is the disequilibrium between surface temperature and radiative forcing according to the model. This is now between 1 and 1.5 watts per square meter and implies that, if radiative forcing was held constant from now on, that temperature would increase by around 1ºC to reach equilibrium.** This gap is exactly balanced by the blue area, which is heat uptake. As you can see, heat uptake kept surface temperature fairly constant during the last decade and a half despite increasing forcing. It's also interesting to see what happens during large volcanic eruptions such as Krakatoa in 1883. Heat leaves the ocean, largely, but not entirely, offsetting the fall in radiative forcing due to the eruption. This means that though the impact of large volcanic eruptions on radiative forcing is short-lived, as the stratospheric sulfates emitted are removed after 2 to 3 years, they have much longer-lasting effects on the climate as shown by the long period of depressed heat content after the Krakatoa eruption in the previous graph.

We also compare the multicointegration model to more conventional (I(1)) VAR models. In the following graph, Models I and II are multicointegration models and Models IV to VI are I(1) VAR models. Model IV actually includes observed ocean heat content as one of its variables, but Models V and VI just include surface temperature and forcing. The graph shows the temperature response to permanent doubling of radiative forcing:

The multicointegration models have both a higher climate sensitivity and respond more slowly due to the buffering effect. This mimics, to some degree, the response of a general circulation model. The performance of Model IV is actually worse than the bivariate I(1) VARs. This is because it uses a much shorter sample period than Models V and VI. In simulations that are not reported in the paper, we found that a simple bivariate I(1) VAR estimates the climate sensitivity correctly if the time series is sufficiently long - much longer than the 165 years of annual observations that we have. This means that ignoring the ocean doesn't strictly result in omitted variables bias as I previously claimed. Estimates are biased in a small sample, but not in a sufficiently large sample. That is probably going to be another paper :)

* "Likely" is the IPCC term for a 66% confidence interval. This confidence interval is computed using the delta method and is a little different to the one reported in the paper.
** This is called committed warming. But, if emissions were actually reduced to zero, it's expected that forcing would decline and that the decline in forcing would about balance the increase in temperature towards equilibrium.


Berenguer-Rico, V., Carrion-i-Silvestre, J. L., 2011. Regime shifts in stock-flow I(2)-I(1) systems: The case of US fiscal sustainability. Journal of Applied Econometrics 26, 298—321.

Cheng L., Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J., Boyer, T., Abraham, J., Zhu, J., 2017. Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015. Science Advances 3(3), e1601545.

Cox, P. M., Huntingford, C., Williamson, M. S., 2018. Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability. Nature 553, 319–322.

Engsted, T. Haldrup, N., 1999. Multicointegration in stock-flow models. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 61, 237—254.

Granger, C. W. J., Lee, T. H., 1989. Investigation of production, sales and inventory relationships using multicointegration and non-symmetric error correction models. Journal of Applied Econometrics 4, S145—S159.

Kaufmann R. K. and D. I. Stern (1997) Evidence for human influence on climate from hemispheric temperature relations, Nature 388, 39-44.

Marvel, K., Schmidt, G. A., Miller, R. L., Nazarenko, L., 2016. Implications for climate sensitivity from the response to individual forcings. Nature Climate Change 6(4), 386—389.

Siliverstovs, B., 2006. Multicointegration in US consumption data. Applied Economics 38(7), 819–833.

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