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The Climate Policy Dilemma

  • Robert S. Pindyck

Climate policy poses a dilemma for environmental economists. The economic argument for stringent greenhouse gas (GHG) abatement is far from clear. There is disagreement among both climate scientists and economists concerning the likelihood of alternative climate outcomes, the nature and extent of the uncertainty of those outcomes, and the framework that should be used to evaluate potential benefits from GHG abatement, including key policy parameters. I argue that the case for stringent abatement--if it can be made at all--cannot be based on the kinds of modeling exercises that have permeated the literature thus far, but instead must be based on the possibility of a catastrophic outcome. I discuss how an analysis that incorporates such an outcome might be conducted. (JEL: Q54; D81, Q51) Copyright 2013, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in its journal Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

Volume (Year): 7 (2013)
Issue (Month): 2 (July)
Pages: 219-237

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Handle: RePEc:oup:renvpo:v:7:y:2013:i:2:p:219-237
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  1. Pindyck, Robert S., 2012. "Uncertain outcomes and climate change policy," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 289-303.
  2. Robert J. Barro & Tao Jin, 2009. "On the Size Distribution of Macroeconomic Disasters," NBER Working Papers 15247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Partha Dasgupta, 2008. "Discounting climate change," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 141-169, December.
  4. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  5. Ravi Bansal & Marcelo Ochoa, 2011. "Welfare Costs of Long-Run Temperature Shifts," NBER Working Papers 17574, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Melissa Dell & Benjamin F. Jones & Benjamin A. Olken, 2008. "Climate Change and Economic Growth: Evidence from the Last Half Century," NBER Working Papers 14132, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. William D. Nordhaus, 2011. "Estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon: Background and Results from the RICE-2011 Model," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1826, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  8. Robert J. Barro, 2009. "Rare Disasters, Asset Prices, and Welfare Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 243-64, March.
  9. Robert S. Pindyck & Neng Wang, 2013. "The Economic and Policy Consequences of Catastrophes," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(4), pages 306-39, November.
  10. Ravi Bansal & Marcelo Ochoa, 2011. "Temperature, Aggregate Risk, and Expected Returns," NBER Working Papers 17575, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Stephen Newbold & Adam Daigneault, 2009. "Climate Response Uncertainty and the Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 44(3), pages 351-377, November.
  12. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2011. "Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon for Use in U.S. Federal Rulemakings: A Summary and Interpretation," NBER Working Papers 16913, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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