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Accounting for the risk of extreme outcomes in an integrated assessment of climate change

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  • Gerst, Michael D.
  • Howarth, Richard B.
  • Borsuk, Mark E.

Abstract

The potential for climate catastrophes, represented by 'fat-tailed' distributions on consequences, has attracted much attention recently. To date, however, most integrated assessment models have either been largely deterministic or deterministic with ex-post sensitivity analysis. The conclusions of such analyses are likely to differ from those employing models that accurately characterize society's joint preferences concerning time and risk, especially when distributions are fat-tailed. Using a dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model adapted from Nordhaus's DICE model, we show that failing to accurately account for risk can lead to substantial underestimation of the net benefits of greenhouse gas abatement. A robust finding of our analysis is that a lenient 'policy ramp' emissions reduction strategy is preferable over a more aggressive strategy--such as that advocated by the Stern Review--only if the model does not account for uncertainty about the climate system, the carbon cycle and economic damages, and specifies a consumption discount rate that is counterfactually higher than the historical global weighted average cost of capital of 4.0%. In the debate over uncertainty and time discounting, our results imply that what matters most in climate change assessment is the inclusion and particular specification of uncertainty rather than the precise choice of discount rate.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Energy Policy.

Volume (Year): 38 (2010)
Issue (Month): 8 (August)
Pages: 4540-4548

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Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:38:y:2010:i:8:p:4540-4548

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/enpol

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Keywords: Uncertainty Cost-benefit analysis Climate change;

References

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  1. Richard S. J. Tol & Gary W. Yohe, 2006. "A Review of the Stern Review," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 7(4), pages 233-250, October.
  2. Altug,Sumru & Labadie,Pamela, 2008. "Asset Pricing for Dynamic Economies," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521875851, April.
  3. Lorraine Hamid & Nicholas Stern & Chris Taylor, 2007. "REFLECTIONS ON THE STERN REVIEW (2) A Growing International Opportunity to Move Strongly on Climate Change," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 8(1), pages 169-186, January.
  4. Adam Daigneault & Steve Newbold, 2009. "Climate Response Uncertainty and the Unexpected Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions," NCEE Working Paper Series 200806, National Center for Environmental Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revised Mar 2009.
  5. Richard B. Howarth, 2009. "Discounting, Uncertainty, and Revealed Time Preference," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 85(1), pages 24-40.
  6. Simon Dietz & Chris Hope & Nicholas Stern & Dimitri Zenghelis, 2007. "REFLECTIONS ON THE STERN REVIEW (1) A Robust Case for Strong Action to Reduce the Risks of Climate Change," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 8(1), pages 121-168, January.
  7. Stephen Newbold & Adam Daigneault, 2009. "Climate Response Uncertainty and the Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 44(3), pages 351-377, November.
  8. Roughgarden, Tim & Schneider, Stephen H., 1999. "Climate change policy: quantifying uncertainties for damages and optimal carbon taxes," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(7), pages 415-429, July.
  9. Martin L. Weitzman, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 703-724, September.
  10. Richard T. Woodward & Richard C. Bishop, 1997. "How to Decide When Experts Disagree: Uncertainty-Based Choice Rules in Environmental Policy," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 73(4), pages 492-507.
  11. Manne, Alan & Mendelsohn, Robert & Richels, Richard, 1995. "MERGE : A model for evaluating regional and global effects of GHG reduction policies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 17-34, January.
  12. Robert Mendelsohn, 2008. "Is the Stern Review an Economic Analysis?," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 45-60, Winter.
  13. Richard S. J. Tol & Gary W. Yohe, 2007. "A Stern Reply to the Reply to the Review of the Stern Review," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 8(2), pages 153-159, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Gren, Ing-Marie & Carlsson, Mattias & Elofsson, Katarina & Munnich, Miriam, 2012. "Stochastic carbon sinks for combating carbon dioxide emissions in the EU," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 1523-1531.
  2. Mort Webster & Nidhi Santen & Panos Parpas, 2012. "An approximate dynamic programming framework for modeling global climate policy under decision-dependent uncertainty," Computational Management Science, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 339-362, August.
  3. Kousky, Carolyn & Kopp, Robert E. & Cooke, Roger, 2011. "Risk premia and the social cost of carbon: A review," Economics Discussion Papers 2011-19, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

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