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Moving targets—cost-effective climate policy under scientific uncertainty

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  • Reyer Gerlagh
  • Thomas Michielsen

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Abstract

The IPCC’s fifth assessment report of Working Group III has just come out. It pays special attention to the 2 °C temperature target and tells us that the window of opportunity to prevent such climate change is rapidly closing. Yet, the report also presents a portfolio of stabilization targets, reflecting a fundamental ambiguity: there is no unique “dangerous” climate threshold. Here, we describe a framework for the evaluation of optimal climate policy given an uncertain formal climate threshold. We find that uncertainty leads to moving targets: even when the available information does not change, future regulators will tend to relax current climate plans. We develop a reduced form integrated assessment model to assess the quantitative significance of our findings. We calibrate preferences such that in 2000 a stabilization target of 450 ppmv maintains the optimal balance between climate risks and abatement costs. The naïve equilibrium ultimately reaches a peak of 570 ppmv, missing the 2000 stabilizations targets by a wide margin. Our results offer an explanation for the inertia in mitigation efforts over the past decades: policies often delay the majority of abatement efforts. Yet, believing that subsequent regulators will uphold the planned future efforts is self-defeating. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Suggested Citation

  • Reyer Gerlagh & Thomas Michielsen, 2015. "Moving targets—cost-effective climate policy under scientific uncertainty," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 132(4), pages 519-529, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:132:y:2015:i:4:p:519-529
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1447-6
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Dengler, Sebastian & Gerlagh, Reyer & Trautmann, Stefan T. & van de Kuilen, Gijs, 2018. "Climate policy commitment devices," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 331-343.
    2. Gerlagh, Reyer, 2017. "Generous Sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 94-100.
    3. Reyer Gerlagh & Roweno J.R.K. Wan, 2018. "Optimal Stabilization in an Emission Permits Market," CESifo Working Paper Series 6950, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Lucas Bretschger & Karen Pittel, 2019. "Twenty Key Questions in Environmental and Resource Economics," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 19/328, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
    5. Reyer Gerlagh & Roweno J.R.K. Heijmans, 2018. "Regulating Stock Externalities," CESifo Working Paper Series 7383, CESifo Group Munich.

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