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Climate Policy under Sustainable Discounted Utilitarianism

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  • Simon Dietz
  • Geir B. Asheim

Abstract

Empirical evaluation of policies to mitigate climate change has been largely confined to the application of discounted utilitarianism (DU). DU is controversial, both due to the conditions through which it is justified and due to its consequences for climate policies, where the discounting of future utility gains from present abatement efforts makes it harder for such measures to justify their present costs. In this paper, we propose sustainable discounted utilitarianism (SDU) as an alternative principle for evaluation of climate policy. Unlike undiscounted utilitarianism, which always assigns zero relative weight to present utility, SDU is an axiomatically based criterion, which departs from DU by assigning zero weight to present utility if and only if the present is better off than the future. Using the DICE integrated assessment model to run risk analysis, we show that it is possible for the future to be worse off than the present along a ‘business as usual’ development path. Consequently SDU and DU differ, and willingness to pay for emissions reductions is (sometimes significantly) higher under SDU than under DU. Under SDU, stringent schedules of emissions reductions increase social welfare, even for a relatively high utility discount rate.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Dietz & Geir B. Asheim, 2011. "Climate Policy under Sustainable Discounted Utilitarianism," CESifo Working Paper Series 3563, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3563
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. van den Bergh, J.C.J.M. & Botzen, W.J.W., 2015. "Monetary valuation of the social cost of CO2 emissions: A critical survey," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 33-46.
    2. Gerlagh, Reyer, 2017. "Generous Sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 94-100.
    3. Adler, Matthew & Anthoff, David & Bosetti, Valentina & Garner, Greg & Keller, Klaus & Treich, Nicolas, 2016. "Priority for the Worse Off and the Social Cost of Carbon," MITP: Mitigation, Innovation,and Transformation Pathways 244334, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM).
    4. Wouter Botzen, W.J. & van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M., 2012. "How sensitive is Nordhaus to Weitzman? Climate policy in DICE with an alternative damage function," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 117(1), pages 372-374.
    5. Geir B. Asheim, 2017. "Sustainable growth," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 49(3), pages 825-848, December.
    6. repec:eee:ecolec:v:143:y:2018:i:c:p:253-275 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Tol, Richard S.J., 2013. "Targets for global climate policy: An overview," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 911-928.
    8. Adler, Matthew & Treich, Nicolas, 2014. "Consumption, Risk and Prioritarianism," TSE Working Papers 14-500, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    9. Prieur, Fabien & Tidball, Mabel & Withagen, Cees, 2013. "Optimal emission-extraction policy in a world of scarcity and irreversibility," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(4), pages 637-658.
    10. Matthew Adler & Nicolas Treich, 2015. "Prioritarianism and Climate Change," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 62(2), pages 279-308, October.
    11. Endress, Lee H. & Pongkijvorasin, Sittidaj & Roumasset, James & Wada, Christopher A., 2014. "Intergenerational equity with individual impatience in a model of optimal and sustainable growth," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 620-635.
    12. Dietz, Simon & Gollier, Christian & Kessler, Louise, 2015. "The climate beta," IDEI Working Papers 856, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
    13. Pezzey, John C.V. & Burke, Paul J., 2014. "Towards a more inclusive and precautionary indicator of global sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 141-154.
    14. Geir B. Asheim, 2014. "Equitable intergenerational preferences and sustainability," Chapters,in: Handbook of Sustainable Development, chapter 8, pages 125-139 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    15. van den Bijgaart, Inge & Gerlagh, Reyer & Liski, Matti, 2016. "A simple formula for the social cost of carbon," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 75-94.
    16. Lee H. Endress & Sittidaj Pongkijvorasin & James Roumasset & Christopher Wada, 2013. "Intergenerational Equity with Individual Impatience in an OLG Model of Optimal and Sustainable Growth," Working Papers 2013-9, University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
    17. Simon Dietz & Nicoleta Anca Matei, 2016. "Spaces for Agreement: A Theory of Time-Stochastic Dominance and an Application to Climate Change," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 85-130.
    18. Nicholas Stern, 2013. "The Structure of Economic Modeling of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change: Grafting Gross Underestimation of Risk onto Already Narrow Science Models," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 838-859, September.
    19. Balvers, Ronald & Du, Ding & Zhao, Xiaobing, 2012. "The Adverse Impact of Gradual Temperature Change on Capital Investment," 2012 Annual Meeting, August 12-14, 2012, Seattle, Washington 124676, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    20. repec:eee:jeeman:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:258-274 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. repec:eee:matsoc:v:87:y:2017:i:c:p:94-102 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Simon Dietz & Anca N. Matei, 2013. "Is there space for agreement on climate change? A non-parametric approach to policy evaluation," GRI Working Papers 136, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    23. Cameron Hepburn & Greer Gosnell, 2014. "Evaluating impacts in the distant future: cost–benefit analysis, discounting and the alternatives," Chapters,in: Handbook of Sustainable Development, chapter 9, pages 140-159 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    24. Michael Spackman, 2011. "Government discounting controversies: the valuation of social time preference," GRI Working Papers 68, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    climate change; discounted utilitarianism; intergenerational equity; sustainable development; sustainable discounted utilitarianism;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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