Economics of global warming


Economics of global warming

This article describes the economics of global warming and climate change.

Contents

Definitions

In this article, the phrase “climate change” is used to describe a change in the climate, measured in terms of its statistical properties, e.g., the global mean surface temperature.[1] In this context, “climate” is taken to mean the average weather. Climate can change over period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical time period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. The climate change referred to may be due to natural causes, e.g., changes in the sun's output, or due to human activities, e.g., changing the composition of the atmosphere.[2] Any human-induced changes in climate will occur against the “background” of natural climatic variations (see attribution of recent climate change for more information).

In this article, the phrase “global warming” refers to the change in the Earth's global average surface temperature.[3] Measurements show a global temperature increase of 1.4 °F (0.78 °C) between the years 1900 and 2005. Global warming is closely associated with a broad spectrum of other climate changes, such as increases in the frequency of intense rainfall, decreases in snow cover and sea ice, more frequent and intense heat waves, rising sea levels, and widespread ocean acidification.[4]

Climate change science

This section describes the science of climate change in relation to economics (Munasinghe et al., 1995:39-41):[5]

  • Greenhouse gases:
    • These gases have been linked with current climate change and may result in further climate change in the future (e.g., see US NRC, 2001).[6] Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are stock pollutants, and not flow pollutants. This means that it is the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere that is important in determining climate change impacts, rather than the flow of GHGs into the atmosphere.
    • The stocks of different GHGs in the atmosphere depreciate at various rates, e.g., the atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide is over 100 years. If the atmospheric lifetime of the GHG is a year or longer, then the winds have time to spread the gas throughout the lower atmosphere, and its absorption of terrestrial infrared radiation occurs at all latitudes and longitudes (US NRC, 2001:10). It is the flows from all the GHG sources of all nations that contribute to the stock of long-lived GHGs in the atmosphere.
  • Inertia: The emissions of GHGs in any one year represent a relatively small fraction of the total global stock, meaning that the system as a whole has great inertia. If emissions were to be reduced to zero, it would take decades to centuries for stock levels to decline significantly. The time required for stocks to depreciate depends on the physical process of GHG removal. The stocks of GHGs with relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, such as methane, depreciate more quickly than the stocks of GHGs with longer atmospheric lifetimes, e.g., HFCs.
  • Impact data: Predictions of the physical impacts of climate change are based on the work of climate scientists. Only once (or if) further climate change occurs, will the true social and economic impacts of climate change be known. (Note: The preceding sentence is from 1995. Climate change is acknowledged by mainstream science to exist, to be continuing and to be highly likely to be largely caused by human activity)

Scenarios

Socioeconomic scenarios are used by analysts to make projections of future GHG emissions and to assess future vulnerability to climate change (Carter et al., 2001:151).[7] Producing scenarios requires estimates of future population levels, economic activity, the structure of governance, social values, and patterns of technological change. Economic and energy modelling (such as via the World3 or the POLES models) can be used to analyse and quantify the effects of such drivers.

Emissions scenarios

One type of emissions scenario is called a "global future" scenario. These scenarios can be thought of as stories of possible futures. They allow the description of factors that are difficult to quantify, such as governance, social structures, and institutions. Morita et al. (2001:137-142) assessed the literature on global futures scenarios.[8] They found considerable variety among scenarios, ranging from variants of sustainable development, to the collapse of social, economic, and environmental systems.

No strong patterns were found in the relationship between economic activity and GHG emissions. Economic growth was found to be compatible with increasing or decreasing GHG emissions. In the latter case, emissions growth is mediated by increased energy efficiency, shifts to non-fossil energy sources, and/or shifts to a post-industrial (service-based) economy.

Factors affecting emissions growth

  • Development trends: In producing scenarios, an important consideration is how social and economic development will progress in developing countries (Fisher et al., 2007:176).[9] If, for example, developing countries were to follow a development pathway similar to the current industrialized countries, it could lead to a very large increase in emissions.
  • GHG emissions and economic growth: Emissions do not only depend on the growth rate of the economy. Other factors are listed below:
    • Structural changes in the production system.
    • Technological patterns in sectors such as energy.
    • Geographical distribution of human settlements and urban structures. This affects, for example, transportation requirements.
    • Consumption patterns: e.g., housing patterns, leisure activities, etc.
    • Trade patterns: the degree of protectionism and the creation of regional trading blocks can affect availability to technology.

Trends and projections

Emissions

The Kaya identity expresses the level of energy related CO2 emissions as the product of four indicators (Rogner et al., 2007, p. 107):[10]

  • Carbon intensity. This is the CO2 emissions per unit of total primary energy supply (TPES)
  • Energy intensity. This is the TPES per unit of gross domestic product (GDP)
  • GDP per capita (GDP/cap)
  • Population

GDP/capita growth (an aspect of economic development) and population growth were the main drivers of the increase in global emissions during the last three decades of the 20th century. At the global scale, declining carbon and energy intensities have been unable to offset these effects, and consequently, carbon emissions have risen.

  • Projections:
    • Without additional policies to cut GHG emissions (including efforts to reduce deforestation), they are projected to increase between 25% and 90% by 2030 relative to their 2000 levels (Rogner et al., 2007:111). Two-thirds to three-quarters of the increase in CO2 emissions are projected to come from developing countries, although the average per capita CO2 emissions in developing country regions will remain substantially lower than those in developed country regions.[further explanation needed (why is comparing per capita emissions of interest?)]
    • By 2100, projections range from a 40% reduction to an increase in emissions of 250% above their levels in 2000. Atmospheric concentrations of GHG emissions are unlikely to stabilize this century without major policy changes.

Concentrations

Rogner et al. (2007:102) reported that the then-current estimated total atmospheric concentration of long-lived GHGs was around 455 parts-per-million (ppm) CO2-eq (range: 433-477 ppm CO2-eq). The effects of aerosol and land-use change changes reduced the physical effect (the radiative forcing) of this to 311 to 435 ppm CO2-eq, with a central estimate of about 375 ppm CO2-eq.

  • SRES Projections: At the time they were developed, the range of global emissions projected across all forty of the SRES scenarios covered the 5th% to 95th% percentile range of the emission scenarios literature (Morita et al., 2001:146).[8] The forty SRES scenarios are classified into six groups, with an illustrative scenario for each group. Under these six illustrative scenarios, the projected concentration of CO2 in the year 2100 ranges from 540 to 970 ppm (IPCC, 2001b:8).[11] Uncertainties over aspects of climate science, such as the GHG removal process of carbon sinks, mean that the total projected concentration ranges from 490 to 1,260 ppm. This compares to a pre-industrial (taken as the year 1750) concentration of about 280 ppm, and a concentration of about 368 ppm in the year 2000.

Cost-benefit analysis

Standard cost-benefit analysis can be applied to the problem of climate change (Goldemberg et al., 1996:24,31-32).[12] This requires (1) the valuation of costs and benefits using the willingness to pay as a measure of value, and (2) a criterion for accepting or rejecting proposals:

(1) The valuation of costs and benefits of climate change is difficult because some climate change impacts are difficult to assign a value to, e.g., ecosystems and human health. It is also impossible to know the preferences of future generations, which affects the valuation of costs and benefits (DeCanio, 2007:4).[13]

(2) The standard criterion is the compensation principle. According to the compensation principle, so long as those benefitting from a particular project compensate the losers, and there is still something left over, then the result is an unambiguous gain in welfare. If there are no mechanisms allowing compensation to be paid, then it is necessary to assign weights to particular individuals.

One of the mechanisms for compensation is impossible for this problem: mitigation might benefit future generations at the expense of current generations, but there is no way that future generations can compensate current generations for the costs of mitigation (DeCanio, 2007:4). On the other hand, should future generations bear most of the costs of climate change, compensation to them would not be possible (Goldemberg et al., 1996:32). Another transfer for compensation exists between regions and populations. If, for example, some countries were to benefit from future climate change but others lose out, there is no guarantee that the winners would compensate the losers; similarly, if some countries were to benefit from reducing climate change but others lose out, there would likewise be no guarantee that the winners would compensate the losers.

Risk

In a cost-benefit analysis, an acceptable risk means that the benefits of a climate policy outweigh the costs of the policy (Halsnæs et al., 2007).[14] The standard rule used by public and private decision makers is that a risk will be acceptable if the expected net present value is positive. The expected value is the mean of the distribution of expected outcomes (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 25).[12] In other words, it is the average expected outcome for a particular decision. This criterion has been justified on the basis that:

  • a policy's benefits and costs have known probabilities
  • economic agents (people and organizations) can diversify their own risk through insurance and other markets.

On the first point, probabilities for climate change are difficult to calculate. Also, some impacts, such as those on human health and biodiversity, are difficult to value. On the second point, it has been suggested that insurance could be bought against climate change risks. In practice, however, there are difficulties in implementing the necessary policies to diversify climate change risks.

Risk

One of the problems of climate change are the large uncertainties over the potential impacts of climate change, and the costs and benefits of actions taken in response to climate change, e.g., in reducing GHG emissions (Toth et al., 2001, p. 608).[15] Two related ways of thinking about the problem of climate change decision-making in the presence of uncertainty are iterative risk management (Fisher et al., 2007;[16] Yohe, 2010)[17] and sequential decision making (Toth et al., 2001).[18] Considerations in a risk-based approach might include, for example, the potential for low-probability, worst-case climate change impacts (Barker et al., 2007a).[19]

An approach based on sequential decision making recognises that, over time, decisions related to climate change can be revised in the light of improved information (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 26).[12] This is particularly important with respect to climate change, due to the long-term nature of the problem. A near-term hedging strategy concerned with reducing future climate impacts might favour stringent, near-term emissions reductions (Toth et al., 2001, pp. 612–613).[20] Such an approach would allow for greater future flexibility with regard to a low stabilization target, e.g., 450 ppmv CO2. To put it differently, stringent near-term emissions abatement can be seen as having an option value in allowing for lower, long-term stabilization targets. This option may be lost if near-term emissions abatement is less stringent.

On the other hand, a view may be taken that points to the benefits of improved information over time. This may suggest an approach where near-term emissions abatement is more modest (Defra/HM Treasury, 2005).[21] Another way of viewing the problem is to look at the potential irreversibility of future climate change impacts (e.g., damages to ecosystems) against the irreversibility of making investments in efforts to reduce emissions (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 26; see also Economics of climate change mitigation#Irreversible impacts and policy).

Resilient and adaptive strategies

CCSP (2009, p. 59) suggested two related decision-making management strategies that might be particularly appealing when faced with high uncertainty.[22] The first were resilient strategies. This seeks to identify a range of possible future circumstances, and then choose approaches that work reasonably well across all the range. The second were adaptive strategies. The idea here is to choose strategies that can be improved as more is learned as the future progresses. CCSP (2009) contrasted these two approaches with the cost-benefit approach, which seeks to find an optimal strategy.

Portfolio theory

An example of a strategy that is based on risk is portfolio theory. This suggests that a reasonable response to uncertainty is to have a wide portfolio of possible responses. In the case of climate change, mitigation can be viewed as an effort to reduce the chance of climate change impacts (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 24).[12] Adaptation acts as insurance against the chance that unfavourable impacts occur. The risk associated with these impacts can also be spread. As part of a policy portfolio, climate research can help when making future decisions. Technology research can help to lower future costs.

Optimal choices and risk aversion

The optimal result of decision analysis depends on what criterion is chosen to define what "optimal" is (Arrow et al., 1996, pp. 62–63. See also the section on trade offs).[23] In a decision analysis based on cost-benefit analysis, the optimal policy is evaluated in economic terms. The optimal result of cost-benefit analysis maximizes net benefits. Another type of decision analysis is cost-effectiveness analysis. This is similar to cost-benefit analysis, except that the assessed benefit, or policy target, is set outside of the analysis.

The actual choice of a criterion for deciding the optimal result of decision analysis is a subjective decision. The choice of criterion is made outside of the analysis. One of the influences on this choice on this is attitude to risk. Risk aversion describes how willing or unwilling someone is to take risks. Evidence indicates that most, but not all, individuals prefer certain outcomes to uncertain ones. Risk-averse individuals prefer decision criteria that reduce the chance of the worst possible outcome, while risk-seeking individuals prefer decision criteria that maximize the chance of the best possible outcome. In terms of returns on investment, if society as a whole is risk-averse, we might be willing to accept some investments with negative expected returns, e.g., in mitigation (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 24).[12] Such investments may help to reduce the possibility of future climate damages or the costs of adaptation.

International insurance

Traditional insurance works by transferring risk to those better able or more willing to bear risk, and also by the pooling of risk (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 25).[12] Since the risks of climate change are, to some extent, correlated, this reduces the effectiveness of pooling. However, there is reason to believe that different regions will be affected differently by climate change. This suggests that pooling might be effective. Since developing countries appear to be potentially most at risk from the effects of climate change, developed countries could provide insurance against these risks.

Authors have pointed to several reasons why commercial insurance markets cannot adequately cover risks associated with climate change (Arrow et al., 1996, p. 72).[23] For example, there is no international market where individuals or countries can insure themselves against losses from climate change or related climate change policies.

Financial markets for risk

There are several options for how insurance could be used in responding to climate change (Arrow et al., 1996, p. 72).[23] One response could be to have binding agreements between countries. Countries suffering greater-than-average climate-related losses would be assisted by those suffering less-than-average losses. This would be a type of mutual insurance contract. Another approach would be to trade "risk securities" among countries. These securities would amount to betting on particular climate outcomes.

These two approaches would allow for a more efficient distribution of climate change risks. They would also allow for different beliefs over future climate outcomes. For example, it has been suggested that these markets might provide an objective test of the honesty of a particular country's beliefs over climate change. Countries that honestly believe that climate change presents little risk would be more prone to hold securities against these risks.

Impacts

Distribution of impacts

|Climate change impacts can be measured as an economic cost (Smith et al., 2001, pp. 936–941).[24] This is particularly well-suited to market impacts, that is impacts that are linked to market transactions and directly affect GDP. Monetary measures of non-market impacts, e.g., impacts on human health and ecosystems, are more difficult to calculate. Other difficulties with impact estimates are listed below:

  • Knowledge gaps: Calculating distributional impacts requires detailed geographical knowledge, but these are a major source of uncertainty in climate models.
  • Vulnerability: Compared with developed countries, there is a limited understanding of the potential market sector impacts of climate change in developing countries.
  • Adaptation: The future level of adaptive capacity in human and natural systems to climate change will affect how society will be impacted by climate change. Assessments may under- or overestimate adaptive capacity, leading to under- or overestimates of positive or negative impacts.
  • Socioeconomic trends: Future predictions of development affect estimates of future climate change impacts, and in some instances, different estimates of development trends lead to a reversal from a predicted positive, to a predicted negative, impact (and vice versa).

In a literature assessment, Smith et al. (2001, pp. 957–958) concluded, with medium confidence, that:

  • climate change would increase income inequalities between and within countries.
  • a small increase in global mean temperature (up to 2 °C, measured against 1990 levels) would result in net negative market sector impacts in many developing countries and net positive market sector impacts in many developed countries.

With high confidence, it was predicted that with a medium (2-3 °C) to high level of warming (greater than 3 °C), negative impacts would be exacerbated, and net positive impacts would start to decline and eventually turn negative.

Aggregate impacts

Aggregating impacts adds up the total impact of climate change across sectors and/or regions (IPCC, 2007a, p. 76).[25] In producing aggregate impacts, there are a number of difficulties, such as predicting the ability of societies to adapt climate change, and estimating how future economic and social development will progress (Smith et al., 2001, p. 941).[24] It is also necessary for the researcher to make subjective value judgements over the importance of impacts occurring in different economic sectors, in different regions, and at different times.

Smith et al. (2001, p. 958) assessed the literature on the aggregate impacts of climate change. With medium confidence, they concluded that a small increase in global average temperature (up to 2 °C, measured against 1990 levels) would result in an aggregate market sector impact of plus or minus a few percent of world GDP. Smith et al. (2001) found that for a small to medium (2-3 °C) global average temperature increase, some studies predicted small net positive market impacts. Most studies they assessed predicted net damages beyond a medium temperature increase, with further damages for greater (more than 3 °C) temperature rises.

Comparison with SRES projections

IPCC (2001, p. 74) compared their literature assessment of the aggregate market sector impacts of climate change against projections of future increases in global mean temperature.[26] Temperature projections were based on the six illustrative SRES emissions scenarios. Projections for the year 2025 ranged from 0.4 to 1.1 °C. For 2050, projections ranged from 0.8 to 2.6 °C, and for 2100, 1.4 to 5.8 °C. These temperature projections correspond to atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 405-460 ppm for the year 2025, 445-640 ppm for 2050, and 540-970 ppm for 2100.

Adaptation and vulnerability

IPCC (2007a) defined adaptation (to climate change) as "[initiatives] and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects" (p. 76).[25] Vulnerability (to climate change) was defined as "the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes" (p. 89).

Autonomous and planned adaptation

Autonomous adaptation are adaptations that are reactive to climatic stimuli, and are done as a matter of course without the intervention of a public agency. Planned adaptation can be reactive or anticipatory, i.e., undertaken before impacts are apparent. Some studies suggest that human systems have considerable capacity to adapt autonomously (Smit et al., 2001:890).[27] Others point to constraints on autonomous adaptation, such as limited information and access to resources (p. 890). Smit et al. (2001:904) concluded that relying on autonomous adaptation to climate change would result in substantial ecological, social, and economic costs. In their view, these costs could largely be avoided with planned adaptation.

Costs and benefits

A literature assessment by Adger et al. (2007:719) concluded that there was a lack of comprehensive, global cost and benefit estimates for adaptation.[28] Studies were noted that provided cost estimates of adaptation at regional level, e.g., for sea-level rise. A number of adaptation measures were identified as having high benefit-cost ratios.

Adaptive capacity

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change. Smit et al. (2001:895-897) described the determinants of adaptive capacity:[27]

  • Economic resources: Wealthier nations are better able to bear the costs of adaptation to climate change than poorer ones.
  • Technology: Lack of technology can impede adaptation.
  • Information and skills: Information and trained personnel are required to assess and implement successful adaptation options.
  • Social infrastructure
  • Institutions: Nations with well-developed social institutions are believed to have greater adaptive capacity than those with less effective institutions, typically developing nations and economies in transition.
  • Equity: Some believe that adaptive capacity is greater where there are government institutions and arrangements in place that allow equitable access to resources.

Smit et al. (2001) concluded that:

  • countries with limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable empowerment and access to resources have little adaptive capacity and are highly vulnerable to climate change (p. 879).
  • developed nations, broadly speaking, have greater adaptive capacity than developing regions or countries in economic transition (p. 897).

Enhancing adaptive capacity

Smit et al. (2001:905) concluded that enhanced adaptive capacity would reduce vulnerability to climate change. In their view, activities that enhance adaptive capacity are essentially equivalent to activities that promote sustainable development.[27] These activities include (p. 899):

  • improving access to resources
  • reducing poverty
  • lowering inequities of resources and wealth among groups
  • improving education and information
  • improving infrastructure
  • improving institutional capacity and efficiency

Goklany (1995) concluded that promoting free trade - e.g., through the removal of international trade barriers - could enhance adaptive capacity and contribute to economic growth.[29]

Regions

With high confidence, Smith et al. (2001:957-958) concluded that developing countries would tend to be more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries.[24] Based on then-current development trends, Smith et al. (2001:940-941) predicted that few developing countries would have the capacity to efficiently adapt to climate change.

  • Africa: In a literature assessment, Boko et al. (2007:435) concluded, with high confidence, that Africa's major economic sectors had been vulnerable to observed climate variability.[30] This vulnerability was judged to have contributed to Africa's weak adaptive capacity, resulting in Africa having high vulnerability to future climate change. It was thought likely that projected sea-level rise would increase the socio-economic vulnerability of African coastal cities.
  • Asia: Lal et al. (2001:536) reviewed the literature on adaptation and vulnerability. With medium confidence, they concluded that climate change would result in the degradation of permafrost in boreal Asia, worsening the vulnerability of climate-dependent sectors, and affecting the region's economy.[31]
  • Australia and New Zealand: Hennessy et al. (2007:509) reviewed the literature on adaptation and vulnerability.[32] With high confidence, they concluded that in Australia and New Zealand, most human systems had considerable adaptive capacity. With medium confidence, some Indigenous communities were judged to have low adaptive capacity.
  • Europe: In a literature assessment, Kundzewicz et al. (2001:643) concluded, with very high confidence, that the adaptation potential of socioeconomic systems in Europe was relatively high.[33] This was attributed to Europe's high GNP, stable growth, stable population, and well-developed political, institutional, and technological support systems.
  • Latin America: In a literature assessment, Mata et al. (2001:697) concluded that the adaptive capacity of socioeconomic systems in Latin America was very low, particularly in regard to extreme weather events, and that the region's vulnerability was high.[34]
  • Polar regions: Anisimov et al. (2001, pp. 804–805) concluded that:[35]
    • within the Antarctic and Arctic, at localities where water was close to melting point, socioeconomic systems were particularly vulnerable to climate change.
    • the Arctic would be extremely vulnerable to climate change. Anisimov et al. (2001) predicted that there would be major ecological, sociological, and economic impacts in the region.
  • Small islands: Mimura et al. (2007, p. 689) concluded, with very high confidence, that small islands were particularly vulnerable to climate change.[36] Partly this was attributed to their low adaptive capacity and the high costs of adaptation in proportion to their GDP.

Systems and sectors

  • Coasts and low-lying areas: According to Nicholls et al. (2007, p. 336), societal vulnerability to climate change is largely dependent on development status.[37] Developing countries lack the necessary financial resources to relocate those living in low-lying coastal zones, making them more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries. With high confidence, Nicholls et al. (2007, p. 317) concluded that on vulnerable coasts, the costs of adapting to climate change are lower than the potential damage costs.[38]
  • Industry, settlements and society:
    • At the scale of a large nation or region, at least in most industrialized economies, the economic value of sectors with low vulnerability to climate change greatly exceeds that of sectors with high vulnerability (Wilbanks et al., 2007, p. 366).[39] Additionally, the capacity of a large, complex economy to absorb climate-related impacts, is often considerable. Consequently, estimates of the aggregate damages of climate change - ignoring possible abrupt climate change - are often rather small as a percentage of economic production. On the other hand, at smaller scales, e.g., for a small country, sectors and societies might be highly vulnerable to climate change. Potential climate change impacts might therefore amount to very severe damages.
    • Wilbanks et al. (2007, p. 359) concluded, with very high confidence, that vulnerability to climate change depends considerably on specific geographic, sectoral and social contexts. In their view, these vulnerabilities are not reliably estimated by large-scale aggregate modelling.[40]

Mitigation

Mitigation of climate change involves actions that are designed to limit the amount of long-term climate change (Fisher et al., 2007:225).[9] Mitigation may be achieved through the reduction of GHG emissions or through the enhancement of sinks that absorb GHGs, e.g., forests.

International public goods

The atmosphere is an international public good, and GHG emissions are an international externality (Goldemberg et al., 1996:21, 28, 43).[12] A change in the quality of the atmosphere does not affect the welfare of all individuals equally. In other words, some individuals may benefit from climate change, while others may lose out. This uneven distribution of potential climate change impacts, plus the uneven distribution of emissions globally, make it difficult to secure a global agreement to reduce emissions (Halsnæs et al., 2007:127).[41]

Policies

National

Both climate and non-climate policies can affect emissions growth. Non-climate policies that can affect emissions are listed below (Bashmakov et al., 2001:409-410):[42]

  • Market-orientated reforms can have important impacts on energy use, energy efficiency, and therefore GHG emissions.
  • Price and subsidy policies: Many countries provide subsidies for activities that impact emissions, e.g., subsidies in the agriculture and energy sectors, and indirect subsidies for transport.
  • Market liberalization: Restructuring of energy markets has occurred in several countries and regions. These policies have mainly been designed to increase competition in the market, but they can have a significant impact on emissions.

There are a number of policies that might be used to mitigate climate change, including (Bashmakov et al., 2001:412-422):

  • Regulatory standards, e.g., technology or performance standards.
  • Market-based instruments, such as emissions taxes and tradable permits.
  • Voluntary agreements between public agencies and industry.
  • Informational instruments, e.g., to increase public awareness of climate change.
  • Use of subsidies and financial incentives, e.g., feed-in tariffs for renewable energy (Gupta et al., 2007:762).[43]
  • Removal of subsidies, e.g., for coal mining and burning (Barker et al., 2001:567-568).[44]
  • Demand-side management, which aims to reduce energy demand through energy audits, product labelling, etc.

International

  • The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC sets out legally binding emission reduction commitments for the "Annex B" countries (Verbruggen, 2007, p. 817).[45] The Protocol defines three international policy instruments ("Flexibility Mechanisms") which can be used by the Annex B countries to meet their emission reduction commitments. According to Bashmakov et al. (2001:402), use of these instruments could significantly reduce the costs for Annex B countries in meeting their emission reduction commitments.[42]
  • Other possible policies include internationally coordinated carbon taxes and/or regulation (Bashmakov et al., 2001:430).

Finance

The International Energy Agency estimates that USD$197 billion is required by states in the developing world above and beyond the underlying investments needed by various sectors regardless of climate considerations, this is twice the amount promised by the developed world at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Cancún Agreements.[46] Thus, a new method is being developed to help ensure that funding is available for climate change mitigation.[46] This involves financial leveraging, whereby public financing is used to encourage private investment.[46]

Cost estimates

According to a literature assessment by Barker et al. (2007b:622), mitigation cost estimates depend critically on the baseline (in this case, a reference scenario that the alternative scenario is compared with), the way costs are modelled, and assumptions about future government policy.[47] Fisher et al. (2007) estimated macroeconomic costs in 2030 for multi-gas mitigation (reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other GHGs, such as methane) as between a 3% decrease in global GDP to a small increase, relative to baseline.[9] This was for an emissions pathway consistent with atmospheric stabilization of GHGs between 445 and 710 ppm CO2-eq. In 2050, the estimated costs for stabilization between 710 and 445 ppm CO2-eq ranged between a 1% gain to a 5.5% decrease in global GDP, relative to baseline. These cost estimates were supported by a moderate amount of evidence and much agreement in the literature (IPCC, 2007b:11,18).[48]

Macroeconomic cost estimates made by Fisher et al. (2007:204) were mostly based on models that assumed transparent markets, no transaction costs, and perfect implementation of cost-effective policy measures across all regions throughout the 21st century. According to Fisher et al. (2007), relaxation of some or all these assumptions would lead to an appreciable increase in cost estimates. On the other hand, IPCC (2007b:8) noted that cost estimates could be reduced by allowing for accelerated technological learning, or the possible use of carbon tax/emission permit revenues to reform national tax systems.

  • Regional costs were estimated as possibly being significantly different from the global average. Regional costs were found to be largely dependent on the assumed stabilization level and baseline scenario.
  • Sectoral costs: In a literature assessment, Barker et al. (2001:563-564), predicted that the renewables sector could potentially benefit from mitigation.[44] The coal (and possibly the oil) industry was predicted to potentially lose substantial proportions of output relative to a baseline scenario, with energy-intensive sectors, such as heavy chemicals, facing higher costs.

Adaptation and mitigation

The distribution of benefits from adaptation and mitigation policies are different in terms of damages avoided (Toth et al., 2001:653).[20] Adaptation activities mainly benefit those who implement them, while mitigation benefits others who may not have made mitigation investments. Mitigation can therefore be viewed as a global public good, while adaptation is either a private good in the case of autonomous adaptation, or a national or regional public good in the case of public sector policies.

Paying for an international public good

Economists generally agree on the following two principles (Goldemberg, et al.., 1996:29):[12]

  • For the purposes of analysis, it is possible to separate equity from efficiency. This implies that all emitters, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, should pay the full social costs of their actions. From this perspective, corrective (Pigouvian) taxes should be applied uniformly (see carbon tax#Economic theory).
  • It is inappropriate to redress all equity issues through climate change policies. However, climate change itself should not aggravate existing inequalities between different regions.

Some early studies suggested that a uniform carbon tax would be a fair and efficient way of reducing emissions (Banuri et al., 1996, pp. 103–104).[49] A carbon tax is a Pigouvian tax, and taxes fuels based on their carbon content (Hoeller and Wallin, 1991, p. 92).[50] Criticisms have been made of such a system:

  • A carbon tax would impose different burdens on countries due to existing differences in tax structures, resource endowments, and development. Whether these differing burdens are a good idea is a matter of debate.
  • Most observers[who?] argue that such a tax would not be fair because of differences in historical emissions and current wealth.
  • A uniform carbon tax would not be Pareto efficient unless lump sum transfers were made between countries. Pareto efficiency requires that the carbon tax would not make any countries worse off than they would be without the tax (Chichilnisky and Heal, 1994, p. 445;[51] Tol, 2001, p. 72).[52] Also, at least one country would need to be better off.

An alternative approach to having a Pigouvian tax is one based on property rights. A practical example of this would be a system of emissions trading, which is essentially a privatization of the atmosphere (Hepburn, 2007).[53] The idea of using property rights in response to an externality was put forward by Coase (1960). Coase's model of social cost assumes a situation of equal bargaining power among participants and equal costs of making the bargain (Toth et al.., 2001:668).[20] Assigning property rights can be an efficient solution. This is based on the assumption that there are no bargaining/transaction costs involved in buying or selling these property rights, and that buyers and sellers have perfect information available when making their decisions.

If these assumptions are correct, efficiency is achieved regardless of how property rights are allocated. In the case of emissions trading, this suggests that equity and efficiency can be addressed separately: equity is taken care of in the allocation of emission permits, and efficiency is promoted by the market system. In reality, however, markets do not live up to the ideal conditions that are assumed in Coase's model, with the result that there may be trade-offs between efficiency and equity (Halsnæs et al., 2007).[54]

Efficiency and equity

No scientific consensus exists on who should bear the burden of adaptation and mitigation costs (Goldemberg et al.., 1996:29).[12] Several different arguments have been made over how to spread the costs and benefits of taxes or systems based on emissions trading.

One approach considers the problem from the perspective of who benefits most from the public good. This approach is sensitive to the fact that different preferences exist between different income classes. The public good is viewed in a similar way as a private good, where those who use the public good must pay for it. Some people will benefit more from the public good than others, thus creating inequalities in the absence of benefit taxes. A difficulty with public goods is determining who exactly benefits from the public good, although some estimates of the distribution of the costs and benefits of global warming have been made - see above. Additionally, this approach does not provide guidance as to how the surplus of benefits from climate policy should be shared.

A second approach has been suggested based on economics and the social welfare function. To calculate the social welfare function requires an aggregation of the impacts of climate change policies and climate change itself across all affected individuals. This calculation involves a number of complexities and controversial equity issues (Markandya et al., 2001:460).[55] For example, the monetization of certain impacts on human health. There is also controversy over the issue of benefits affecting one individual offsetting negative impacts on another (Smith et al.., 2001:958).[24] These issues to do with equity and aggregation cannot be fully resolved by economics (Banuri et al.., 1996:87).[49]

On a utilitarian basis, which has traditionally been used in welfare economics, an argument can be made for richer countries taking on most of the burdens of mitigation (Halsnæs et al., 2007).[56] However, another result is possible with a different modeling of impacts. If an approach is taken where the interests of poorer people have lower weighting, the result is that there is a much weaker argument in favour of mitigation action in rich countries. Valuing climate change impacts in poorer countries less than domestic climate change impacts (both in terms of policy and the impacts of climate change) would be consistent with observed spending in rich countries on foreign aid (Hepburn, 2005;[57] Helm, 2008:229).[58]

In terms of the social welfare function, the different results depend on the elasticity of marginal utility. A declining marginal utility of consumption means that a poor person is judged to benefit more from increases in consumption relative to a richer person. A constant marginal utility of consumption does not make this distinction, and leads to the result that richer countries should mitigate less.

A third approach looks at the problem from the perspective of who has contributed most to the problem. Because the industrialized countries have contributed more than two-thirds of the stock of human-induced GHGs in the atmosphere, this approach suggests that they should bear the largest share of the costs. This stock of emissions has been described as an "environmental debt" (Munasinghe et al., 1996, p. 167).[59] In terms of efficiency, this view is not supported. This is because efficiency requires incentives to be forward-looking, and not retrospective (Goldemberg et al., 1996, p. 29). The question of historical responsibility is a matter of ethics. Munasinghe et al. (1996, p. 167) suggested that developed countries could address the issue by making side-payments to developing countries.

Trade offs

It is often argued in the literature that there is a trade-off between adaptation and mitigation, in that the resources committed to one are not available for the other (Schneider et al., 2001:94).[60] This is debatable in practice because the people who bear emission reduction costs or benefits are often different from those who pay or benefit from adaptation measures.

There is also a trade off in how much damage from climate change should be avoided. The assumption that it is always possible to trade off different outcomes is viewed as problematic by many people (Halsnæs et al., 2007).[61] For example, a trade off might exist between economic growth and damages faced by indigenous cultures.

Some of the literature has pointed to difficulties in these kinds of assumptions. For instance, there may be aversion at any price towards losing particular species. It has also been suggested that low-probability, extreme outcomes are overweighted when making choices. This is related to climate change, since the possibility of future abrupt changes in the climate or the Earth system cannot be ruled out. For example, if the West Antarctic ice sheet was to disintegrate, it could result in a sea level rise of 4–6 meters over several centuries.

Cost-benefit analysis

In a cost-benefit analysis, the trade offs between climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation are made explicit. Cost-benefit analyses of climate change are produced using integrated assessment models (IAMs), which incorporate aspects of the natural, social, and economic sciences.

In an IAM designed for cost-benefit analysis, the costs and benefits of impacts, adaptation and mitigation are converted into monetary estimates. Some view the monetization of costs and benefits as controversial (see Economic impacts of climate change#Aggregate impacts). The "optimal" levels of mitigation and adaptation are then resolved by comparing the marginal costs of action with the marginal benefits of avoided climate change damages (Toth et al., 2001:654).[20] The decision over what "optimal" is depends on subjective value judgements made by the author of the study (Azar, 1998).[62]

There are many uncertainties that affect cost-benefit analysis, for example, sector- and country-specific damage functions (Toth et al., 2001:654). Another example is with adaptation. The options and costs for adaptation are largely unknown, especially in developing countries.

Results

A common finding of cost-benefit analysis is that the optimum level of emissions reduction is modest in the near-term, with more stringent abatement in the longer-term (Stern, 2007:298;[63] Heal, 2008:20;[64] Barker, 2008).[65] This approach might lead to a warming of more than 3 °C above the pre-industrial level (World Bank, 2010:8).[66] In most models, benefits exceed costs for stabilization of GHGs leading to warming of 2.5 °C. No models suggest that the optimal policy is to do nothing, i.e., allow "business-as-usual" emissions.

Along the efficient emission path calculated by Nordhaus and Boyer (2000) (referred to by Fisher et al.., 2007), the long-run global average temperature after 500 years increases by 6.2 °C above the 1900 level.[67] Nordhaus and Boyer (2000) stated their concern over the potentially large and uncertain impacts of such a large environmental change. It should be noted that the projected temperature in this IAM, like any other, is subject to scientific uncertainty (e.g., the relationship between concentrations of GHGs and global mean temperature, which is called the climate sensitivity). Projections of future atmospheric concentrations based on emission pathways are also affected by scientific uncertainties, e.g., over how carbon sinks, such as forests, will be affected by future climate change. Klein et al. (2007) concluded that there were few high quality studies in this area, and placed low confidence in the results of cost-benefit analysis.[68]

Hof et al. (2008) (referred to by World Bank, 2010:8) examined the sensitivity of the optimal climate target to assumptions about the time horizon, climate sensitivity, mitigation costs, likely damages, and discount rates. The optimal target was defined as the concentration that would result in the lowest reduction in the present value (i.e., discounted) of global consumption. A set of assumptions that included a relatively high climate sensitivity (i.e., a relatively large global temperature increase for a given increase in GHGs), high damages, a long time horizon, low discount rates (i.e., future consumption is valued relatively highly), and low mitigation costs, produced an optimum peak in the concentration of CO2e at 540 parts per million (ppm). Another set of assumptions that assumed a lower climate sensitivity (lower global temperature increase), lower damages, a shorter time horizon, and a higher discount rate (present consumption is valued relatively more highly), produced an optimum peaking at 750 ppm.

Strengths

In spite of various uncertainties or possible criticisms of cost-benefit analysis, it does have several strengths:

  • It offers an internally consistent and global comprehensive analysis of impacts (Smith et al., 2001:955).[24]
  • Sensitivity analysis allows critical assumptions in the analysis to be changed. This can identify areas where the value of information is highest and where additional research might have the highest payoffs (Downing, et al., 2001:119).[69]
  • As uncertainty is reduced, the integrated models used in producing cost-benefit analysis might become more realistic and useful.

Geoengineering

Geoengineering are technological efforts to stabilize the climate system by direct intervention in the Earth-atmosphere-system's energy balance (Verbruggen, 2007, p. 815).[70] The intent of geoengineering is to reduce the amount of global warming (the observed trend of increased global average temperature (NRC, 2008, p. 2)).[71] IPCC (2007b:15) concluded that reliable cost estimates for geoengineering options had not been published.[48] This finding was based on medium agreement in the literature and limited evidence.

Major reports considering economics of climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced several reports where the economics literature on climate change is assessed. In 1995, the IPCC produced its second set of assessment reports on climate change. Working Group III of the IPCC produced a report on the "Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change." In the later third and fourth IPCC assessments, published in 2001 and 2007 respectively, the assessment of the economics literature is divided across two reports produced by IPCC Working Groups II and III.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a 700-page report released for the British government on October 30, 2006 by economist Nicholas Stern chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. The report discusses the effect of global warming on the world economy.

The Garnaut Climate Change Review was a study by Professor Ross Garnaut, commissioned by then Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd[72] and by the Australian State and Territory Governments on 30 April 2007. After his election on 24 November 2007 Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd confirmed the participation of the Commonwealth Government in the Review.

See also

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