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Sustainability and the Economics of the Environment: Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Dynamics of the Long-Run Discount Rate

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  • Phoebe Koundouri
  • Ben Groom

Abstract

This paper reviews the arguments for and the implications of employing Declining Discount Rates (DDRs) in CBA and in the analysis of economic growth and sustainability. We show that there exist several growth models in which a relationship has been found between the long-run equilibrium under DDRs and that in which a zero discount rate is employed. This can have the effect of pushing the optimum under DDRs away from the conventional utilitarian outcome towards the Green Golden Rule (GGR) level of capita or environmental stocks. Furthermore, in response to worries that the GGR places weight on the future at too great an expense to the present, we highlight the result of Li and Lofgren (2000): DDRs can evoke a solution to resource management problems in which the objective function explicitly takes into account the preferences of present and future generations, such as those posited by. Either zero or conventional discounting does not achieve this solution. It is in these senses that DDRs can be seen to encourage a more equal treatment of generations and promote sustainable outcomes. We also discuss different methodologies for the estimation of a working schedule of DDRs assuming that future discount rates and the past provides information about the future. The policy implications of this are that a correctly specified model of discount rates provides a schedule of DDRs, which values atmospheric carbon reduction 150% higher than conventional exponential discounting, and almost 90% higher than incorrectly specified models. In this sense sustainable outcomes are more likely to emerge from project appraisal with DDRs, but given that the theory of DDRs for CBA reviewed relates to the socially efficient discount rate, such outcomes can also be thought of as efficient.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Athens University of Economics and Business in its series DEOS Working Papers with number 0903.

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Publication status: Published in Focus on Ecology Research
Handle: RePEc:aue:wpaper:0903

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Keywords: Sustainability; economics; environment; Cost-benefit analysis; long-run discount rate;

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  1. Pizer, William & Newell, Richard, 2000. "Discounting the Distant Future: How Much Do Uncertain Rates Increase Valuations?," Discussion Papers dp-00-45, Resources For the Future.
  2. J.K. Horowitz, 2002. "Preferences in the Future," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 21(3), pages 241-258, March.
  3. Li, Chuan-Zhong & Lofgren, Karl-Gustaf, 2000. "Renewable Resources and Economic Sustainability: A Dynamic Analysis with Heterogeneous Time Preferences," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 236-250, November.
  4. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Discounting an uncertain future," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(2), pages 149-166, August.
  5. Robert J. Barro, 1999. "Ramsey Meets Laibson In The Neoclassical Growth Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(4), pages 1125-1152, November.
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  7. Chichilnisky, Graciela, 1995. "An axiomatic approach to sustainable development," MPRA Paper 8609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. Hugh Gravelle & Dave Smith, 2001. "Discounting for health effects in cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(7), pages 587-599.
  9. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Time Horizon and the Discount Rate," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 463-473, December.
  10. Weitzman, M.L., 1993. "On the 'Environmental' Discount Rate," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1625, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
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  12. Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "Why the Far-Distant Future Should Be Discounted at Its Lowest Possible Rate," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 201-208, November.
  13. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  14. Heal, G., 1998. "Valuing the Future: Economic Theory and Sustainability," Papers 98-10, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  15. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  16. Loewenstein, George & Prelec, Drazen, 1992. "Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 573-97, May.
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