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Irreversibility and uncertainty cause an intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off

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  • Hoberg, Nikolai
  • Baumgärtner, Stefan

Abstract

Two important policy goals in intergenerational problems are Pareto-efficiency and sustainability, i.e. intergenerational equity. We demonstrate that the pursuit of these goals is subject to an intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off. Our analysis highlights two salient characteristics of intergenerational problems and policy: (i) temporal irreversibility, i.e. the inability to revise one's past actions; and (ii) uncertainty of future consequences of present actions in human-environment systems. We employ a two-non-overlapping-generations model that combines an intragenerational production decision on the use of circulating capital and a non-renewable resource, with a negative intergenerational externality as an unforeseen contingency. If initially unknown problems become apparent and policy is enacted after irreversible actions were taken, policy-making faces a fundamental trade-off between ex-post Pareto-efficiency and sustainability. That is, one can achieve either one of these two goals, but not both.

Suggested Citation

  • Hoberg, Nikolai & Baumgärtner, Stefan, 2017. "Irreversibility and uncertainty cause an intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 75-86.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:131:y:2017:i:c:p:75-86
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.08.015
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Climate change; Closed ignorance; Intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off; Irreversibility; Pareto-efficiency; Sustainability; Unawareness;

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q38 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy (includes OPEC Policy)
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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