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Climate policy under sustainable discounted utilitarianism

  • Simon Dietz
  • Geir B. Asheim

Empirical evaluation of policies to mitigate climate change has been largely confined to the application of discounted utilitarianism (DU). DU is contro-versial, both due to the conditions through which it is justifed 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 utilitari- anism (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 it exceeds future welfare. Using the DICE integrated assessment model to run risk analysis, we show that it is possible for future welfare to be below present utility along a `business as usual' development path. Consequently SDU and DU differ, and willingness to pay for emissions reductions is (sometimes signifcantly) higher under SDU than under DU. Under SDU, stringent schedules of emissions reductions increase social welfare, even if the discount rate is relatively high.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/37578/
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 37578.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 10 Mar 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:37578
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  1. Kelly, David L. & Kolstad, Charles D., 2001. "Malthus and Climate Change: Betting on a Stable Population," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 135-161, March.
  2. David Anthoff & Richard Tol, 2009. "The Impact of Climate Change on the Balanced Growth Equivalent: An Application of FUND," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 43(3), pages 351-367, July.
  3. Chichilnisky, Graciela, 1995. "An axiomatic approach to sustainable development," MPRA Paper 8609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Martin L. Weitzman, 2009. "On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 1-19, February.
  5. M. L. Weitzman, 1974. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product in Dynamic Economy," Working papers 125, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. Fankhauser, Samuel & S.J. Tol, Richard, 2005. "On climate change and economic growth," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 1-17, January.
  7. Marc Fleurbaey, 2009. "Assessing risky social situations," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 27006, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  8. Geir Asheim & Tapan Mitra & Bertil Tungodden, 2012. "Sustainable recursive social welfare functions," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 49(2), pages 267-292, February.
  9. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 1995. "Intertemporal Population Ethics: Critical-Level Utilitarian Principles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(6), pages 1303-20, November.
  10. Martin L. Weitzman, 2010. "What Is The "Damages Function" For Global Warming — And What Difference Might It Make?," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 1(01), pages 57-69.
  11. Dasgupta, Partha, 2001. "Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199247882, March.
  12. Stéphane Zuber & Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Justifying Social Discounting: The Rank-Discounted Utilitarian Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 3192, CESifo Group Munich.
  13. Mirrlees, J. A. & Stern, N. H., 1972. "Fairly good plans," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 268-288, April.
  14. Ackerman, Frank & Stanton, Elizabeth A. & Bueno, Ramón, 2010. "Fat tails, exponents, extreme uncertainty: Simulating catastrophe in DICE," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(8), pages 1657-1665, June.
  15. Asheim, Geir B. & Mitra, Tapan, 2010. "Sustainability and discounted utilitarianism in models of economic growth," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 148-169, March.
  16. Nordhaus, William D, 1991. "To Slow or Not to Slow: The Economics of the Greenhouse Effect," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 920-37, July.
  17. Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Intergenerational Equity," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 197-222, 09.
  18. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521825511 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Antoine Bommier & Stéphane Zuber, 2008. "Can preferences for catastrophe avoidance reconcile social discounting with intergenerational equity?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 31(3), pages 415-434, October.
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  21. Hammond, Peter J, 1989. "Consistent Plans, Consequentialism, and Expected Utility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(6), pages 1445-49, November.
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