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Sustainability, Conflicting Interests and Generational Equity. Professor Anil Markandya April 2008. Sustainability. Probably the biggest sustainability problem is the conflict between interests of present and future generations Comes up most acutely on climate change

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Sustainability conflicting interests and generational equity

Sustainability, Conflicting Interests and Generational Equity

Professor Anil Markandya

April 2008


Sustainability
Sustainability Equity

  • Probably the biggest sustainability problem is the conflict between interests of present and future generations

  • Comes up most acutely on climate change

  • But also present in other decisions with long term consequences: nuclear and hydropower, infrastructure investments.


The discount rate
The Discount Rate Equity

  • Economists use the discount rate to make investment and policy decisions that have impacts over time.

  • Future costs and benefits are valued less than present ones.

  • DR is crucial: value of £1000 over time…


Reasons for discounting
Reasons for Discounting Equity

  • Impatience (+) (δ )

  • People will be richer in the future (+) (μ)

  • The future is more uncertain (-) (s)

  • Since s increases with time Implications are that we should discount longer term projects at a lower rate.

  • UK and French governments now adopt this policy


What rates are used
What Rates Are Used? Equity

  • UK govt. rates: 3.5% rate for 1-30 years, a 3% rate for 31-75 years, a 2.5% rate for 76-125 years, a 2% rate for 125-200 years, 1.5% for 201-300 years, and 1% for longer periods

  • Private sector uses higher rates (varying with risk of course)

  • High rates can make it difficult to justify many environmental investments but this can be countered by higher values of environmental services in the future.


Special case of climate change
Special Case of Climate Change Equity

  • Very long term impacts

  • High uncertainty

  • Stern took very low rate (0.1%), criticized by several economists.

  • But based on above it may be appropriate. (δ = 0; μ = 0.01; η = 1; s = 0.13)


Fat tails problem
Fat Tails Problem Equity

  • Problem is not only ‘uncertainty’ but not knowing the probabilities of different outcomes (e.g. climate sensitivity).

  • “Known unknowns vs Unkown unknowns” D. Rumsfeld

  • With unknown unknowns the distribution of possible outcomes has a ‘fat tail’

Fat Tail!


Implications of fat tails
Implications of Fat Tails Equity

  • With fat tails we cannot resolve uncertainty by adding a risk premium as in the discount formula

  • We have to rely on learning – reducing uncertainty over time – and flexibility. (Reverend Bayes (1702-1761)).

  • Or we have to impose some ‘sustainability constraints’

  • Revised knowledge implies revised policies.


An economist s perspective
An Economist’s Perspective Equity

  • The climate-change experiment, whose eventual outcome we are trying to infer now, concerns the planet’s response to a geologically-instantaneous exogenous injection of GHGs. This planetary experiment of an exogenous injection of this much GHG this fast is probably unprecedented in Earth’s history even stretching back hundreds of millions of years. Can anyone honestly say now from very limited information or experience what are reasonable upper bounds on the eventual degree of global warming or climate change that we are currently trying to infer will be the outcome of such a first-ever planetary experiment?

  • M. Weizman, Harvard University 2007.


Uncertainty flexibility and policy
Uncertainty Flexibility and Policy Equity

  • Substantial reduction in uncertainty is possible in next 2-5 decades. (20-40%)

  • This could imply a slightly less stringent policy in the next few decades than if we did not expect to learn (if we seek to max. net benefits).

  • But if we seek to achieve a target rate of stabilization learning reduces stringency now even less.

  • I would argue that a target rate of stabilization is more consistent with a sustainability framework.


Another conflicting interest rich and poor
Another Conflicting Interest: Rich and Poor Equity

  • Rich will have to make a bigger sacrifice to meet climate objectives.

  • By and large the poor are more negatively affected by any future climate change.

  • Poor countries will have to make some sacrifices as well if we are to meet targets.

  • Rich carry a debt of responsibility for the GHG concentrations.


What advice can we give
What Advice Can We Give? Equity

  • An increase in knowledge is very important (support research in this research)

  • But the need for more knowledge is not an excuse for lack of action.

  • Action can and should be flexible.

  • International agreements with cuts by all parties are essential

  • Efficiency and equity objectives can be decoupled – use of MBIs with ‘fair’ allocations of rights.


Thank you

Thank You Equity


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