Weitzman, Stern named Leontief Prize winners

Tufts’ Global Development and Environment (GDAE) Institute on Nov. 10 announced Martin Weitzman of Harvard University and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics as the 2011 winners of its annual Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

The prize recognizes their research contributions in climate change economics, a field that focuses on the economic feasibility of reducing greenhouse gases.

“With the impetus provided by Stern and Weitzman’s work, climate issues may now have a much greater role in our analysis of economic development,” GDAE Senior Research Associate Jonathan Harris said.

Tufts will hold the ceremony on its Medford campus on March 8.

Stern, who is chair of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, formerly served as chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank. He will be largely recognized for the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, a 700−page report he authored for the British government, in which he outlined more robust efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, Harris said, offered a revolutionary response to economists who typically balance the costs and benefits of reducing carbon emissions.

“Until recently, most economists recommended relatively limited action, suggesting that the costs of dramatic reductions in carbon could outweigh the benefits,” Harris, who directs the GDAE’s theory and education program, said. “Stern’s work completely changed the debate, since he presented a powerful argument in favor of aggressive action on climate change, finding large environmental benefits from action and relatively low costs.”

Stern’s report calls for abrupt reductions in business−as−usual emissions, pushing strongly for an international agreement on global standards for reducing greenhouse gases. He also argues against the modern−day assertion that addressing climate change will be more costly than beneficial.

Investing in technology that would reduce greenhouse emissions, Stern believes, will have both business−related and environmental benefits.

“Publicly supported low−carbon development can both create jobs, reduce risks for our planet and spark off a wave of new investment which will create a more secure, cleaner and attractive economy for all of us,” Stern said in a 2009 report he co−authored.

Weitzman is an economics professor at Harvard University. He has done extensive research on the economic effects of extreme climate disaster and is focusing his current work on helping others understand the economic dimensions of climate change.

“Rather than focusing on average estimates of the economic damages of climate change, Weitzman argues that it’s the possibility of unprecedented temperature increases that should guide our policies,” GDAE Senior Research Associate Brian Roach said.

Harris echoed Roach’s sentiments, adding that Weitzman has reframed discussions of climate change.

“[Weitzman] argues that economists need to pay much greater attention to the possibilities of disastrous climate impacts, since the ‘worst−case’ scenarios could destroy many of the benefits of economic growth,” Harris said.

Weitzman’s work has proved particularly salient in ongoing debates over carbon taxes and the related cap−and−trade emissions exchange proposal, according to the GDAE press release.

The Leontief Prize, established in 2000, is granted annually to two economists whose work advances knowledge in economic, environmental and social issues. The prize was named for Wassily Leontief, a Nobel prize−winning economist who served as a GDAE advisory board member until his death in 1999.

Prior winners include Harvard’s Amartya Sen and Herman Daly of the University of Maryland, College Park.