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On backstops and boomerangs: Environmental R&D under technological uncertainty

Listed author(s):
  • Goeschl, Timo
  • Perino, Grischa

In areas such as climate change, the recent economic literature has been emphasizing and addressing the pervasive presence of uncertainty. This paper considers a new and salient form of uncertainty, namely uncertainty regarding the environmental characteristics of 'green' innovations. Here, R&D may generate both backstop technologies and technologies that turn out to involve a new pollution problem ('boomerangs'). In the optimum, R&D will therefore typically be undertaken more than once. Extending results from multi-stage optimal control theory, we present a tractable model with a full characterization of the optimal pollution and R&D policies and the role of uncertainty. In this setting, (i) the optimal R&D program is defined by a research trigger condition in which the decision-maker's belief about the probability of finding a backstop enters in an intuitive way; (ii) a decreasing probability of finding a backstop leads to the toleration of higher pollution levels, slower R&D, a slower turnover of technologies, and an ambiguous effect on the expected number of innovations; (iii) learning about the probability of a backstop is driven by failures only and leads to decreasing research incentives; and (iv) small to moderate delays in the resolution of technological uncertainty do not affect the optimal policy.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Energy Economics.

Volume (Year): 31 (2009)
Issue (Month): 5 (September)
Pages: 800-809

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Handle: RePEc:eee:eneeco:v:31:y:2009:i:5:p:800-809
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/eneco

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  1. Heal, Geoffrey M., 1993. "The optimal use of exhaustible resources," Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, in: A. V. Kneeseā€  & J. L. Sweeney (ed.), Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 18, pages 855-880 Elsevier.
  2. Baker, Erin & Adu-Bonnah, Kwame, 2008. "Investment in risky R&D programs in the face of climate uncertainty," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 465-486, March.
  3. Timo Goeschl & Grischa Perino, 2006. "Innovation Without Magic Bullets: Stock Pollution and R&D Sequences," Working Papers 0436, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics, revised Dec 2006.
  4. Just, Richard E. & Netanyahu, Sinaia & Olson, Lars J., 2005. "Depletion of natural resources, technological uncertainty, and the adoption of technological substitutes," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 91-108, June.
  5. Michida, Etsuyo & Nishikimi, Koji, 2007. "North-South trade and industry-specific pollutants," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 229-243, September.
  6. Grischa Perino, 2008. "The merits of new pollutants and how to get them when patents are granted," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 40(3), pages 313-327, July.
  7. Baker, Erin & Shittu, Ekundayo, 2008. "Uncertainty and endogenous technical change in climate policy models," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 2817-2828, November.
  8. William D. Nordhaus, 1973. "The Allocation of Energy Resources," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 4(3), pages 529-576.
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  11. Valentina Bosetti & Massimo Tavoni, 2007. "Uncertain R&D, Backstop Technology and GHGs Stabilization," Working Papers 2007.6, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  12. Partha Dasgupta & Geoffrey Heal, 1974. "The Optimal Depletion of Exhaustible Resources," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(5), pages 3-28.
  13. Tomiyama, Ken, 1985. "Two-stage optimal control problems and optimality conditions," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 317-337, November.
  14. Michael Grubb, Carlo Carraro and John Schellnhuber, 2006. "Technological Change for Atmospheric Stabilization: Introductory Overview to the Innovation Modeling Comparison Project," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Special I), pages 1-16.
  15. Chakravorty, Ujjayant & Roumasset, James & Tse, Kinping, 1997. "Endogenous Substitution among Energy Resources and Global Warming," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(6), pages 1201-1234, December.
  16. Makris, Miltiadis, 2001. "Necessary conditions for infinite-horizon discounted two-stage optimal control problems," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 25(12), pages 1935-1950, December.
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