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Steering the Climate System: Using Inertia to Lower the Cost of Policy

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  • Derek Lemoine
  • Ivan Rudik

Abstract

Common views hold that the efficient way to limit warming to a chosen level is to price carbon emissions at a rate that increases exponentially. We show that this Hotelling tax on carbon emissions is actually inefficient. The least-cost policy path takes advantage of the climate system's inertia to delay reducing emissions and allow greater cumulative emissions. The efficient carbon tax follows an inverse-U-shaped path and grows more slowly than the Hotelling tax. Economic models that assume exponentially increasing carbon taxes are overestimating the cost of limiting warming, overestimating the efficient near-term carbon tax, and overvaluing technologies that mature sooner.

Suggested Citation

  • Derek Lemoine & Ivan Rudik, 2017. "Steering the Climate System: Using Inertia to Lower the Cost of Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(10), pages 2947-2957, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:10:p:2947-57
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20150986
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    Cited by:

    1. Johannes Emmerling & Massimo Tavoni, 2018. "Climate Engineering and Abatement: A ‘flat’ Relationship Under Uncertainty," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 69(2), pages 395-415, February.
    2. Rick Van der Ploeg & Simon Dietz & Armon Rezai & Frank Venmans, 2020. "Are economists getting climate dynamics right and does it matter?," Economics Series Working Papers 900, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. Richard S J Tol, 2018. "The Economic Impacts of Climate Change," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 12(1), pages 4-25.
    4. Carsten Helm & Mathias Mier, 2020. "Steering the Energy Transition in a World of Intermittent Electricity Supply: Optimal Subsidies and Taxes for Renewables Storage," ifo Working Paper Series 330, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    5. Frederick Ploeg & Armon Rezai, 2019. "Simple Rules for Climate Policy and Integrated Assessment," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 72(1), pages 77-108, January.
    6. Kent D. Daniel & Robert B. Litterman & Gernot Wagner, 2016. "Applying Asset Pricing Theory to Calibrate the Price of Climate Risk," NBER Working Papers 22795, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Moreno-Cruz, Juan B. & Wagner, Gernot & Keith, David w., 2017. "An Economic Anatomy of Optimal Climate Policy," Working Paper Series rwp17-028, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    8. Hambel, Christoph & Kraft, Holger & Schwartz, Eduardo, 2021. "The social cost of carbon in a non-cooperative world," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C).
    9. Carsten Helm & Mathias Mier, 2018. "Subsidising Renewables but Taxing Storage? Second-Best Policies with Imperfect Pricing," Working Papers V-413-18, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Oct 2018.
    10. Brock, William & Xepapadeas, Anastasios, 2021. "Regional climate policy under deep uncertainty: robust control and distributional concerns," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 211-238, June.
    11. Rick Van der Ploeg & Armon Rezai, 2017. "The Simple Arithmetic of Carbon Pricing and Stranded Assets," OxCarre Working Papers 197, Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies, University of Oxford.
    12. Stephie Fried & Kevin Novan & William B. Peterman, 2021. "Recycling Carbon Tax Revenue to Maximize Welfare," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2021-023, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    13. Lucas Bretschger & Sjak Smulders, 2018. "Taking Time for the Environment: On Timing and the Role of Delays in Environmental and Resource Economics," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 70(4), pages 731-736, August.
    14. Heutel, Garth & Moreno-Cruz, Juan & Shayegh, Soheil, 2016. "Climate tipping points and solar geoengineering," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 132(PB), pages 19-45.
    15. Frederick Ploeg, 2018. "The safe carbon budget," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 147(1), pages 47-59, March.
    16. Luke G. Fitzpatrick & David L. Kelly, 2017. "Probabilistic Stabilization Targets," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(2), pages 611-657.
    17. Laura Nowzohour, 2021. "Can Adjustments Costs in Research Derail the Transition to Green Growth ?," CIES Research Paper series 67-2021, Centre for International Environmental Studies, The Graduate Institute.
    18. Helm, Carsten & Mier, Mathias, 2021. "Steering the energy transition in a world of intermittent electricity supply: Optimal subsidies and taxes for renewables and storage," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 109(C).
    19. Linus Mattauch & Richard Millar & Rick van der Ploeg & Armon Rezai & Anselm Schultes & Frank Venmans & Nico Bauer & Simon Dietz & Ottmar Edenhofer & Niall Farrell & Cameron Hepburn & Gunnar Luderer & , 2018. "Steering the Climate System: An Extended Comment," CESifo Working Paper Series 7414, CESifo.
    20. Dietz, Simon & Venmans, Frank, 2019. "Cumulative carbon emissions and economic policy: In search of general principles," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 108-129.
    21. Helm, Carsten & Mier, Mathias, 2019. "Subsidising Renewables but Taxing Storage? Second-Best Policies with Imperfect Carbon Pricing," VfS Annual Conference 2019 (Leipzig): 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall - Democracy and Market Economy 203539, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    22. Michael Grubb & Rutger-Jan Lange & Nicolas Cerkez & Pablo Salas & Jean-Francois Mercure & Ida Sognnaes, 2020. "Taking Time Seriously: Implications for Optimal Climate Policy," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 20-083/VI, Tinbergen Institute.
    23. Cees A. Withagen, 2018. "The Social Cost of Carbon and the Ramsey Rule," CESifo Working Paper Series 7359, CESifo.
    24. William Brock & Anastasios Xepapadeas, 2019. "Regional Climate Policy under Deep Uncertainty: Robust Control, Hot Spots and Learning," DEOS Working Papers 1903, Athens University of Economics and Business.
    25. William Brock & Anastasios Xepapadeas, 2019. "Regional Climate Policy under Deep Uncertainty," DEOS Working Papers 1901, Athens University of Economics and Business.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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