Interdisciplinarity and Integration in Integrated Assessment Modelling

Thoren, H. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Sustainability science is a field that is defined by its aim to investigate the interactions between natural and social systems (Kates et al., 2001; Komiyama and Takeuchi, 2006; Jerneck et al., 2011). It is also a field that can, to a considerable extent, be characterised by its development and use of models; especially salient is the recruitment of integrated models, so-called integrated assessment models (IAM), that integrate or couple modules sourced from different disciplines (Lotze-Campen, 2008). IAMs are extensively used for a range of purposes such as providing emission scenarios that feed into ensemble projections for the IPCC (van Vuuren et al 2011) and assessing or optimising climate policies; in particular IAMs are used to explore economic impacts of rising GHG levels in the atmosphere (see e.g. Nordhaus 2009, 2017).
But model integration across disciplinary boundaries raise important epistemological and ethical challenges. Normative evaluation of models and modelling practices—that is, what is taken to be a good model—is standardly carried out within the confines of particular disciplines, but differences between disciplines can be considerable. Reconciling such differences is a major practical and epistemological difficulty (Voinov and Shugart 2013). Moreover, modelling choices are often both highly consequential for the output of the model and opaque to policy and decision makers who are to put the results to use.
This paper analyses an influential IAM—William Nordhaus’ DICE model (Nordhaus 2009, 2017)—showing how much of the critique that has been directed at this and similar models (see e.g. Pindyck 2013, 2017, Stern 2013, Pezzey 2018) can be understood in terms of a failure of interdisciplinary integration. This paper is part of a longer project that seeks to investigate the practices and principles that guide integrated assessment modelling from a philosophical point of view.
Period14 Sep 2019
Event titleEuropean Philosophy of Science Association Meeting
Event typeConference
LocationGeneva, Switzerland
Degree of RecognitionInternational