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The Stern Review and its critics: implications for the theory and practice of costs-benefits analysis


  • Daniel H. Cole


The “Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change” reached conclusions and policy recommendations dramatically different from most of the earlier economic analyses of climate change. It found that the costs of climate change, as well as the potential net benefits of greenhouse gas reductions, were much higher than previously estimated, and consequently recommended more rapid and extensive cuts in emissions than had many other economist analysts. A number of prominent economists have criticized the Stern Review on various grounds, including its damage estimates and the selection of parameter values, which affect the interest rate at which future costs and benefits are discounted to present value. This paper summarizes the Stern Review and its critiques, and assesses them from a process-oriented perspective to determine what they can teach us, positively and negatively, about how benefit-cost analyses should (or should not) be carried out.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel H. Cole, 2007. "The Stern Review and its critics: implications for the theory and practice of costs-benefits analysis," QA - Rivista dell'Associazione Rossi-Doria, Associazione Rossi Doria, issue 4, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:rar:journl:0063

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. W. Kip Viscusi & Joel Huber, 2006. "Hyperbolic Discounting of Public Goods," NBER Working Papers 11935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bryan G. Norton & Michael A. Toman, 1997. "Sustainability: Ecological and Economic Perspectives," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 73(4), pages 553-568.
    3. Ben Groom & Cameron Hepburn & Phoebe Koundouri & David Pearce, 2005. "Declining Discount Rates: The Long and the Short of it," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 32(4), pages 445-493, December.
    4. Heal, G., 1998. "Valuing the Future: Economic Theory and Sustainability," Papers 98-10, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
    5. Michael Margolis & Eric Nævdal, 2008. "Safe Minimum Standards in Dynamic Resource Problems: Conditions for Living on the Edge of Risk," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 40(3), pages 401-423, July.
    6. Mark A. Moore & Anthony E. Boardman & Aidan R. Vining & David L. Weimer & David H. Greenberg, 2004. "“Just give me a number!” Practical values for the social discount rate," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(4), pages 789-812.
    7. David Pearce & Ben Groom & Cameron Hepburn & Phoebe Koundouri, 2003. "Valuing the Future," World Economics, World Economics, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 4(2), pages 121-141, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tol, Richard S.J. & Yohe, Gary W., 2009. "The Stern Review: A deconstruction," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 1032-1040, March.

    More about this item


    Cost-Benefit Analysis; Discounting; Discount Rate; Climate Change;

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • H40 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - General
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • Q20 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - General


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