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Risk and Return in Environmental Economics

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  • Robert S. Pindyck

Abstract

I examine the risk/return tradeoff for environmental investments, and its implications for policy choice. Consider a policy to reduce carbon emissions. To what extent does the value of such a policy depend on the expected future damages from global warming versus uncertainty over those damages, i.e., on the expected benefits from the policy versus their riskiness? And to what extent should the policy objective be a reduction in the expected temperature increase versus a reduction in risk? Using a simple model of a stock externality (e.g., temperature) that evolves stochastically, I examine the ``willingness to pay" (WTP) for alternative policies that would reduce the expected damages under ``business as usual" (BAU) versus the variance of those damages. I also show how one can compute ``iso-WTP" curves (social indifference curves) for combinations of risk and expected returns as policy objectives. Given cost estimates for reducing risk and increasing expected returns, one can compute the optimal risk-return mix for a policy, and the policy's social surplus. I illustrate these results by calibrating the model to data for global warming.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert S. Pindyck, 2012. "Risk and Return in Environmental Economics," NBER Working Papers 18262, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18262
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ravi Bansal & Marcelo Ochoa, 2011. "Welfare Costs of Long-Run Temperature Shifts," NBER Working Papers 17574, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. William Brock & M. Taylor, 2010. "The Green Solow model," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 127-153, June.
    3. Ravi Bansal & Marcelo Ochoa, 2011. "Temperature, Aggregate Risk, and Expected Returns," NBER Working Papers 17575, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Partha Dasgupta, 2008. "Discounting climate change," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 141-169, December.
    5. Pindyck, Robert S., 2012. "Uncertain outcomes and climate change policy," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 289-303.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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