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Environmental Protection, Rare Disasters, and Discount Rates

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  • Robert J. Barro

Abstract

Extremely low discount rates play a central role in the Stern Review's evaluation of environmental protection, and this assumption has been criticized by many economists. The Review also stresses that great uncertainty is a critical element for optimal environmental policies. An appropriate model for this policy analysis requires sufficient risk aversion and fattailed uncertainty to get into the ballpark of explaining the observed equity premium. A satisfactory framework, based on Epstein-Zin/Weil preferences, also separates the coefficient of relative risk aversion (important for results on environmental investment) from the intertemporal elasticity of substitution for consumption (which matters little). Calibrations based on existing models of rare macroeconomic disasters suggest that optimal environmental investment can be a significant share of GDP even with reasonable values for the rate of time preference and the expected rate of return on private capital. The key parameters, yet to be pinned down, are the proportionate effect of environmental investment on the probability of environmental disaster and the baseline probability of environmental disaster.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Barro, 2013. "Environmental Protection, Rare Disasters, and Discount Rates," NBER Working Papers 19258, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19258
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Philippe Weil, 1990. "Nonexpected Utility in Macroeconomics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 29-42.
    2. Yongyang Cai & Kenneth L. Judd & Thomas S. Lontzek, 2013. "The Social Cost of Stochastic and Irreversible Climate Change," NBER Working Papers 18704, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Robert J. Barro, 2009. "Rare Disasters, Asset Prices, and Welfare Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 243-264, March.
    4. Robert J. Barro, 2006. "Rare Disasters and Asset Markets in the Twentieth Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(3), pages 823-866.
    5. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1978. "Asset Prices in an Exchange Economy," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(6), pages 1429-1445, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:kap:enreec:v:67:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10640-015-9978-x is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Giglio, Stefano & Maggiori, Matteo & Stroebel, Johannes, 2014. "Very long-run discount rates," Globalization and Monetary Policy Institute Working Paper 182, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
    3. Ian W. R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2015. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(10), pages 2947-2985, October.
    4. Antti Simola & Juntunen, Janne & Meriläinen, Päivi, 2016. "Contaminants and pathogens in waterways - economic assessment of risks," EcoMod2016 9442, EcoMod.
    5. Motoyama, Takumi, 2017. "Optimal disaster-preventive expenditure in a dynamic and stochastic model," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 28-47.
    6. Mariia Belaia & Michael Funke & Nicole Glanemann, 2017. "Global Warming and a Potential Tipping Point in the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation: The Role of Risk Aversion," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 67(1), pages 93-125, May.
    7. Martin L. Weitzman, 2014. "Fat Tails and the Social Cost of Carbon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(5), pages 544-546, May.
    8. Nicholas Stern, 2013. "Ethics, equity and the economics of climate change. Paper 2: Economics and Politics," GRI Working Papers 84b, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    9. repec:eee:macchp:v2-1893 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Christoph M. Rheinberger & Nicolas Treich, 2017. "Attitudes Toward Catastrophe," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 67(3), pages 609-636, July.
    11. Besley, Timothy J. & Dixit, Avinash K., 2017. "Comparing Alternative Policies Against Environmental Catastrophes," CEPR Discussion Papers 11802, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E1 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics

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