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The Choice of Discount Rate for Climate Change Policy Evaluation

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  • Lawrence H. Goulder
  • Roberton C. Williams III

Abstract

Nearly all discussions about the appropriate consumption discount rate for climate-change policy evaluation assume that a single discount rate concept applies. We argue that two distinct concepts and associated rates apply. We distinguish a social-welfare-equivalent discount rate appropriate for determining whether a given policy would augment social welfare (according to a postulated social welfare function) and a finance-equivalent discount rate suitable for determining whether the policy would offer a potential Pareto improvement. Distinguishing the two rates helps resolve arguments as to whether the choice of discount rate should be based on ethical considerations or empirical information (such as market interest rates), and about whether the discount rate should serve a prescriptive or descriptive role. Separating out the two rates also helps clarify disputes about the appropriate stringency of climate change policy. We find that the structure of leading numerical optimization models used for climate policy analysis may have helped contribute to the blurring of the differences between the two rates. In addition, we indicate that uncertainty about underlying ethical parameters or market conditions implies that both rates should decline as the time-horizon increases.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18301.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18301

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Cited by:
  1. Richard S. J. Tol & Kenneth J. Arrow & Maureen L. Cropper & Christian Gollier & Ben Groom & Geoffrey M. Heal & Richard G. Newell & William D. Nordhaus & Robert S. Pindyck & William A. Pizer & Paul R. , 2013. "How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context?," Working Paper Series 5613, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  2. David I. Stern & Frank Jotzo & Leo Dobes, 2013. "The Economics of Global Climate Change: A Historical Literature Review," CCEP Working Papers 1307, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  3. Kousky, Carolyn & Walls, Margaret & Chu, Ziyan, 2013. "Flooding and Resilience: Valuing Conservation Investments in a World with Climate Change," Discussion Papers dp-13-38, Resources For the Future.
  4. Rozenberg, Julie & Vogt-Schilb, Adrien & Hallegatte, Stephane, 2013. "How capital-based instruments facilitate the transition toward a low-carbon economy : a tradeoff between optimality and acceptability," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6609, The World Bank.
  5. Johan Eyckmans & Sam Fankhauser & Snorre Kverndokk, 2013. "Equity, Development Aid and Climate Finance," Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Working Papers 123, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

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