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Climate Policy under Sustainable Discounted Utilitarianism

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  • Simon Dietz
  • Geir B. Asheim

Abstract

Empirical evaluation of policies to mitigate climate change has been largely confined to the application of discounted utilitarianism (DU). DU is controversial, both due to the conditions through which it is justified and due to its consequences for climate policies, where the discounting of future utility gains from present abatement efforts makes it harder for such measures to justify their present costs. In this paper, we propose sustainable discounted utilitarianism (SDU) as an alternative principle for evaluation of climate policy. Unlike undiscounted utilitarianism, which always assigns zero relative weight to present utility, SDU is an axiomatically based criterion, which departs from DU by assigning zero weight to present utility if and only if the present is better off than the future. Using the DICE integrated assessment model to run risk analysis, we show that it is possible for the future to be worse off than the present along a ‘business as usual’ development path. Consequently SDU and DU differ, and willingness to pay for emissions reductions is (sometimes significantly) higher under SDU than under DU. Under SDU, stringent schedules of emissions reductions increase social welfare, even for a relatively high utility discount rate.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 3563.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3563

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Keywords: climate change; discounted utilitarianism; intergenerational equity; sustainable development; sustainable discounted utilitarianism;

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References

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  1. Marc Fleurbaey, 2007. "Assessing Risky Social Situations," IDEP Working Papers 0703, Institut d'economie publique (IDEP), Marseille, France, revised Jan 2007.
  2. Martin L. Weitzman, 2009. "On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 1-19, February.
  3. Antoine Bommier & Stéphane Zuber, 2008. "Can preferences for catastrophe avoidance reconcile social discounting with intergenerational equity?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 31(3), pages 415-434, October.
  4. Stéphane Zuber & Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Justifying Social Discounting: The Rank-Discounted Utilitarian Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 3192, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Asheim, Geir B. & Mitra, Tapan, 2010. "Sustainability and discounted utilitarianism in models of economic growth," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 148-169, March.
  6. Samuel Fankhauser & Richard S.J. Tol, 2001. "On Climate Change And Economic Growth," Working Papers FNU-10, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Jun 2002.
  7. Mirrlees, J. A. & Stern, N. H., 1972. "Fairly good plans," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 268-288, April.
  8. M. L. Weitzman, 1974. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product in Dynamic Economy," Working papers 125, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  9. Chichilnisky, Graciela, 1995. "An axiomatic approach to sustainable development," MPRA Paper 8609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  10. Geir Asheim & Tapan Mitra & Bertil Tungodden, 2012. "Sustainable recursive social welfare functions," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 49(2), pages 267-292, February.
  11. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 1995. "Intertemporal Population Ethics: Critical-Level Utilitarian Principles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(6), pages 1303-20, November.
  12. Dasgupta, Partha, 2001. "Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199247882.
  13. Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Intergenerational Equity," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 197-222, 09.
  14. Kelly, David L. & Kolstad, Charles D., 1999. "Malthus and Climate Change: Betting on a Stable Population," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt9ks625sk, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  15. David Anthoff & Richard S. J. Tol, 2008. "The Impact of Climate Change on the Balanced-Growth-Equivalent: An Application of FUND," Papers WP228, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
  16. Martin L. Weitzman, 2010. "What Is The "Damages Function" For Global Warming — And What Difference Might It Make?," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 1(01), pages 57-69.
  17. Blackorby,Charles & Bossert,Walter & Donaldson,David J., 2005. "Population Issues in Social Choice Theory, Welfare Economics, and Ethics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521532587, October.
  18. Hammond, Peter J, 1989. "Consistent Plans, Consequentialism, and Expected Utility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(6), pages 1445-49, November.
  19. Ackerman, Frank & Stanton, Elizabeth A. & Bueno, Ramón, 2010. "Fat tails, exponents, extreme uncertainty: Simulating catastrophe in DICE," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(8), pages 1657-1665, June.
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Citations

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As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
  1. > Environmental and Natural Resource Economics > Climate economics > Discounting, equity, uncertainty
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Cited by:
  1. Michael Spackman, 2011. "Government discounting controversies: the valuation of social time preference," Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Working Papers 68, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
  2. Endress, Lee H. & Pongkijvorasin, Sittidaj & Roumasset, James & Wada, Christopher A., 2014. "Intergenerational equity with individual impatience in a model of optimal and sustainable growth," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 620-635.
  3. Simon Dietz & Anca N. Matei, 2013. "Is there space for agreement on climate change? A non-parametric approach to policy evaluation," Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Working Papers 136, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
  4. Lee H. Endress & Sittidaj Pongkijvorasin & James Roumasset & Christopher Wada, 2013. "Intergenerational Equity with Individual Impatience in an OLG Model of Optimal and Sustainable Growth," Working Papers 2013-9, University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
  5. Fabien Prieur & Mabel Tidball & Cees Withagen, 2012. "Optimal Emission-Extraction Policy in a World of Scarcity and Irreversibility," OxCarre Working Papers 077, Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies, University of Oxford.
  6. Balvers, Ronald & Du, Ding & Zhao, Xiaobing, 2012. "The Adverse Impact of Gradual Temperature Change on Capital Investment," 2012 Annual Meeting, August 12-14, 2012, Seattle, Washington 124676, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  7. Richard S.J. Tol, 2012. "Targets for Global Climate Policy: An Overview," Working Paper Series 3712, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  8. Nicholas Stern, 2013. "The Structure of Economic Modeling of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change: Grafting Gross Underestimation of Risk onto Already Narrow Science Models," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 838-59, September.
  9. Wouter Botzen, W.J. & van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M., 2012. "How sensitive is Nordhaus to Weitzman? Climate policy in DICE with an alternative damage function," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 117(1), pages 372-374.
  10. Adler, Matthew & Treich, Nicolas, 2014. "Consumption, Risk and Prioritarianism," TSE Working Papers 14-500, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

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