Themen für Masterarbeiten

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Matthias Kalkuhl (Universität Potsdam)



Students with an interest in the economics of Climate Change can either approach us with own proposals related to our working Group or address one of the research topics listed below.

Although it is not necessary, we recommend you to have successfully taken the courses of Prof. Dr. Kalkuhl at the University of Potsdam.

Apart from the formal requirements (Name, Student ID number and the most recent Transcript of records), please write a brief synopsis about 1-2 pages which helps us to understand your interest, your topic, your background and your motivation. Please also list the scientific work you have written so far (Seminar papers, Bachelor Thesis, etc.). Moreover, stress your basic research question and the methodology you intend to apply (empirical, theoretical, synthesis of knowledge, etc.).  We want to know:

  • Why is your topic relevant
  • What is the scientific standing (recent discussion)
  • What is the empirical and theoretical fundament
  • What methods and/or model will be applied

For further information on our research areas, visit our webpage. Applications can be sent to kalkuhl(at)


Topic 1: Climate productivity impacts

In basic economic growth frameworks climate effects are popularly discussed via proportional productivity damages. We wonder whether this assumption understates the relative climate sensitivities of production factors. Although there is massive empirical research on climate damages on capital and labor (productivity), we are not aware of any efforts evaluating the relative sensitivities of production factors. We thus wonder whether there is a convincing way of relating empirical findings to climate sensitivities of capital and labor for assessing whether proportional climate damages in a simple Cobb Douglas Production function adequately represent the climate sensitivities of both inputs.


  • Empirical background, knowledge in economic growth theory
  • Thesis can focus on a critical literature review, theoretical discussion or empirical evaluation

Literature (starting point)

  • Kousky, Carolyn. "Informing climate adaptation: A review of the economic costs of natural disasters." Energy Economics 46 (2014): 576-592.
  • Hsiang, Solomon M., and Amir S. Jina. "Geography, depreciation, and growth." The American Economic Review 105.5 (2015): 252-256.


Topic 2: Stability of size distributions of cities

For more than a century urban researchers have been discussing whether cities follow a size distribution that can be presented with power law relations. In case of linear scaling, the distribution follows Zipf’s law, stating that the second largest city is half the size of the largest etc. Considering that regional and national economic structures strongly impact population dynamics and with that the size distribution of cities, we wonder whether and under what conditions such distributions remain stable.


  • Empirical background and theoretical skills to understand two below listed papers.
  • Thesis can focus on a critical literature review, theoretical discussion or empirical evaluation.

Literature (starting point):

  • Gabaix, Xavier, and Yannis M. Ioannides. "The evolution of city size distributions." Handbook of regional and urban economics 4 (2004): 2341-2378, Working Paper Version recommended (2003)
  • Cristelli, Matthieu, Michael Batty, and Luciano Pietronero. "There is more than a power law in Zipf." Scientific reports 2 (2012): 812.


Topic 3: Measuring economic growth from outer space

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is used as most important indicator for economic wealth and development. GDP data is in many cases only available for entire countries, or in some countries, also for states within countries. Therefore, GDP data gives little information how economic wealth is distributed geographically over space. Additionally, for developing countries with poor institutional capacity, national accounts suffer from data quality problems, e.g. due to a high share of informal economic activities. Precise spatial data on economic production is, however, important to understand the role of climatic and geographical factors on economic wealth and development. Recently, night light data from satellites have been used to estimate economic production over space and time at high geographical resolution. The aim of the thesis will be to review the existing literature and to discuss one potential shortcoming of existing analyses: Night light data is also highly correlated to population (which is correlated to GDP). Hence, a major question to answer is whether night light data can also be used to estimate GDP per capita (rather than total GDP) as GDP per capita is a more relevant indicator of well-being.


  • Background in econometrics and basic knowledge of growth models
  • The thesis will ideally start with a literature review and/or an extension of the analysis by Henderson et al (2012) by a regression on GDP per capita rather than GDP



Topic 4: Review of empirical evidence on environmental migration

One of the possible consequences of climate change is an increase in human migration. The scientific community has identified two main channels through which environmental changes may affect human mobility. The first is via the rapid environmental effects, such as natural disasters.  The second one comprises slow-onset environmental changes such as land quality degradation, or long-term climate modifications. In the recent years the empirical evidence assessing the link between environmental change and migration has increased substantially. Nevertheless, this literature does not provide a clear consensus on this relationship. In order to assess the disparities in the estimates, a systematic and rigorous summary of empirical evidence on environmental migration in economic literature is necessary. A step into this direction has been taken by Millock (2015), who provides a literature review on migration and environment. Millock (2015), however, does not capture the extensive literature that has emerged since 2015, for instance.

Focus of the master thesis

With the goal to deliver more clarity on environmental migration this master thesis should systematically assess the existing empirical evidence in economic literature on environmental migration that has emerged since 2015 or has not been captured by Millock (2015).


  • Background in econometrics
  • Literature review applying methods used for the creation of a meta-analysis of economic research, as described by Stanley (2013).


  • Millock, Katrin. "Migration and environment." Annu. Rev. Resour. Econ. 7.1 (2015): 35-60.
  • Stanley, T. D., et al. "Meta‐analysis of economics research reporting guidelines." Journal of Economic Surveys 27.2 (2013): 390-394.