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Avoiding path dependence of distributional weights: Lessons from climate change economic assessment


  • Thureson, Disa

    () (VTI – The Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute)


In some cost benefit analysis (CBA) applications, such as those used for the valuation of climate change damage, distributional weights are used to account for diminishing utility of marginal income. This is usually done by means of intra-temporal distributional weights, which are combined with discounting to account for inter-temporal equity and efficiency. Here, I show that this approach might introduce some inconsistencies in terms of path dependence. In short, this inconsistency means that regional economic growth is double counted. This is because income weighting is performed both through the discount rate and through the distributional weights such that growth shows up twice in the weighting process. Using the PAGE2002 model, it is found that the inconsistency problem in the original model erases the influence of distributional weights on the social cost of carbon dioxide (SCCO2) compared to a standard CBA approach. The alternative approaches proposed here yield about 20%–40% higher values of SCCO2 than the old approach. While this has been briefly commented on in previous work, it has not yet been more thoroughly analyzed nor communicated to the broader community of climate policy and economic analysts who are not deeply interested in the specifications of the climate impact assessment models.

Suggested Citation

  • Thureson, Disa, 2012. "Avoiding path dependence of distributional weights: Lessons from climate change economic assessment," Working Papers 2012:8, Örebro University, School of Business, revised 01 Feb 2016.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:oruesi:2012_008

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    Distributional weights; Equity weights; Discounting; Cost benefit analysis; Marginal utility; Integrated assessment model; PAGE2002; Social cost of carbon; Climate change;

    JEL classification:

    • C69 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Other
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H43 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Project Evaluation; Social Discount Rate
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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