IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Tipping Points and Ambiguity in the Economics of Climate Change

  • Derek M. Lemoine
  • Christian P. Traeger

We model welfare-maximizing policy in an infinite-horizon setting when the probability of a tipping point, the welfare change due to a tipping point, and knowledge about a tipping point's trigger all depend on the policy path. Analytic results demonstrate how optimal policy depends on the ability to affect both the probability of a tipping point and also welfare in a post-threshold world. Simulations with a numerical climate-economy model show that possible tipping points in the climate system increase the optimal near-term carbon tax by up to 45% in base case specifications. The resulting policy paths lower peak warming by up to 0.5°C compared to a model without possible tipping points. Different types of tipping points have qualitatively different effects on policy, demonstrating the importance of explicitly modeling tipping points' effects on system dynamics. Aversion to ambiguity in the threshold's distribution can amplify or dampen the effect of tipping points on optimal policy, but in our numerical model, ambiguity aversion increases the optimal carbon tax.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18230.

in new window

Date of creation: Jul 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18230
Note: EEE PE
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Kelly, David L & Kolstad, Charles D, 2001. "Solving Infinite Horizon Growth Models with an Environmental Sector," Computational Economics, Springer;Society for Computational Economics, vol. 18(2), pages 217-31, October.
  2. Mäler, K-G. & Xepapadeas, A. & de Zeeuw, A.J., 2000. "The Economics of Shallow Lakes," Discussion Paper 2000-69, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Brozovic, Nicholas & Schlenker, Wolfram, 2011. "Optimal management of an ecosystem with an unknown threshold," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 627-640, February.
  4. Stephen Polasky & Aart de Zeeuw & Florian Wagener, 2010. "Optimal Management with Potential Regime Shifts," CESifo Working Paper Series 3237, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Antony Millner & Simon Dietz & Geoffrey Heal, 2010. "Ambiguity and Climate Policy," NBER Working Papers 16050, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Peter Klibanoff & Massimo Marinacci & Sujoy Mukerji, 2002. "A smooth model of decision making under ambiguity," ICER Working Papers - Applied Mathematics Series 11-2003, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research, revised Apr 2003.
  7. Glenn Ellison & Drew Fudenberg, 2003. "Knife Edge of Plateau: When Do Market Models Tip?," NBER Working Papers 9528, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Tsur, Yacov & Zemel, Amos, 1996. "Accounting for global warming risks: Resource management under event uncertainty," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 20(6-7), pages 1289-1305.
  9. Guo, Xin & Miao, Jianjun & Morellec, Erwan, 2005. "Irreversible investment with regime shifts," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 122(1), pages 37-59, May.
  10. Naevdal, Eric, 2006. "Dynamic optimisation in the presence of threshold effects when the location of the threshold is uncertain - with an application to a possible disintegration of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 30(7), pages 1131-1158, July.
  11. Klibanoff, Peter & Marinacci, Massimo & Mukerji, Sujoy, 2009. "Recursive smooth ambiguity preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(3), pages 930-976, May.
  12. Schelling, Thomas C, 1969. "Models of Segregation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(2), pages 488-93, May.
  13. Troy Davig & Eric M. Leeper, 2005. "Generalizing the Taylor Principle," NBER Working Papers 11874, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Crost, Benjamin & Traeger, Christian P., 2010. "Risk and aversion in the integrated assessment of climate change," CUDARE Working Paper Series 1104R, University of California at Berkeley, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Policy, revised Jul 2011.
  15. Skiba, A K, 1978. "Optimal Growth with a Convex-Concave Production Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(3), pages 527-39, May.
  16. Daniel Ellsberg, 1961. "Risk, Ambiguity, and the Savage Axioms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 643-669.
  17. Clarke, Harry R. & Reed, William J., 1994. "Consumption/pollution tradeoffs in an environment vulnerable to pollution-related catastrophic collapse," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 18(5), pages 991-1010, September.
  18. Keller, Klaus & Bolker, Benjamin M. & Bradford, D.F.David F., 2004. "Uncertain climate thresholds and optimal economic growth," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 723-741, July.
  19. Michael L. Katz & Carl Shapiro, 1994. "Systems Competition and Network Effects," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 93-115, Spring.
  20. Camerer, Colin & Weber, Martin, 1992. "Recent Developments in Modeling Preferences: Uncertainty and Ambiguity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 325-70, October.
  21. Leach, Andrew J., 2007. "The climate change learning curve," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 1728-1752, May.
  22. Costas Azariadis & Allan Drazen, 1990. "Threshold Externalities in Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(2), pages 501-526.
  23. Kelly, David L. & Kolstad, Charles D., 1999. "Bayesian learning, growth, and pollution," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 23(4), pages 491-518, February.
  24. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2011. "Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon for Use in U.S. Federal Rulemakings: A Summary and Interpretation," Working Papers 1106, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
  25. Traeger, Christian P., 2009. "Subjective risk, confidence, and ambiguity," CUDARE Working Paper Series 1103R2, University of California at Berkeley, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Policy, revised May 2011.
  26. Wagener, F. O. O., 2003. "Skiba points and heteroclinic bifurcations, with applications to the shallow lake system," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 27(9), pages 1533-1561, July.
  27. Hall, Darwin C. & Behl, Richard J., 2006. "Integrating economic analysis and the science of climate instability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(3), pages 442-465, May.
  28. W.A. Brock & D. Starrett, 2003. "Managing Systems with Non-convex Positive Feedback," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 26(4), pages 575-602, December.
  29. Gjerde, Jon & Grepperud, Sverre & Kverndokk, Snorre, 1999. "Optimal climate policy under the possibility of a catastrophe," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3-4), pages 289-317, August.
  30. Naevdal, Eric & Oppenheimer, Michael, 2007. "The economics of the thermohaline circulation--A problem with multiple thresholds of unknown locations," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 262-283, November.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18230. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.