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The Choice of Discount Rate for Climate Change Policy Evaluation

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  • Goulder, Lawrence H.
  • Williams, Roberton C.

    ()
    (Resources for the Future)

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 between 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 between 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 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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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Resources For the Future in its series Discussion Papers with number dp-12-43.

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Date of creation: 06 Sep 2012
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Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-12-43

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Keywords: climate change; discounting; discount rate;

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References

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  1. Kaplow Louis & Moyer Elisabeth & Weisbach David A, 2010. "The Social Evaluation of Intergenerational Policies and Its Application to Integrated Assessment Models of Climate Change," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-34, November.
  2. 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.
  3. Gollier, Christian & Weitzman, Martin, 2009. "How Should the Distant Future be Discounted When Discount Rates are Uncertain?," TSE Working Papers 09-107, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
  4. Martin L. Weitzman, 1998. "Gamma Discounting," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1843, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  5. Simon Dietz & Nicholas Stern, 2008. "Why Economic Analysis Supports Strong Action on Climate Change: A Response to the Stern Review's Critics," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 94-113, Winter.
  6. Traeger, Christian P., 2008. "Sustainability, Limited Substitutability and Non-Constant Social Discount Rates," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt10d7d7n4, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
  7. William D. Nordhaus, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 686-702, September.
  8. Thomas Sterner & U. Martin Persson, 2008. "An Even Sterner Review: Introducing Relative Prices into the Discounting Debate," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 61-76, Winter.
  9. 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.
  10. Partha Dasgupta, 2008. "Discounting climate change," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 141-169, December.
  11. Nicholas Stern, 2008. "The Economics of Climate Change," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 1-37, May.
  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. William R. Cline, 1992. "Economics of Global Warming, The," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 39.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Cropper, Maureen, 2012. "How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context?," Discussion Papers dp-12-42, Resources For the Future.
  2. 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.
  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. Yingying Lu & David I. Stern, 2014. "Substitutability and the Cost of Climate Mitigation Policy," CAMA Working Papers 2014-28, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  6. 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.
  7. Arrow, Kenneth J. & Cropper, Maureen L. & Gollier, Christian & Groom, Ben & Heal, Geoffrey M. & Newell, Richard G. & Nordhaus, William D. & Pindyck, Robert S. & Pizer, William A. & Portney, Paul R. & , 2012. "How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context? The Views of an Expert Panel," Discussion Papers dp-12-53, Resources For the Future.

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