Climate policy under fat-tailed risk: An application of FUND

David Anthoff, Richard S.J. Tol

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

We apply four alternative decision criteria, two old ones and two new, to the question of the appropriate level of greenhouse gas emission reduction. In all cases, we consider a uniform carbon tax that is applied to all emissions from all sectors and all countries; and that increases over time with the discount rate. For a one per cent pure rate of the time preference and a rate of risk aversion of one, the tax that maximises expected net present welfare equals $120/tC in 2010. However, we also find evidence that the uncertainty about welfare may well have fat tails so that the sample mean exists only by virtue of the finite number of runs in our Monte Carlo analysis. This is consistent with Weitzman's Dismal Theorem. We therefore consider minimax regret as a decision criterion. As regret is defined on the positive real line, we in fact consider large percentiles instead of the ill-defined maximum. Depending on the percentile used, the recommended tax lies between $100 and $170/tC. Regret is a measure of the slope of the welfare function, while we are in fact concerned about the level of welfare. We therefore minimise the tail risk, defined as the expected welfare below a percentile of the probability density function without climate policy. Depending on the percentile used, the recommended tax lies between $20 and $330/tC. We also minimise the fatness of the tails, as measured by the p-value of the test of the null hypothesis that recursive mean welfare is non-stationary in the number of Monte Carlo runs. We cannot reject the null hypothesis of non-stationarity at the 5 % confidence level, but come closest for an initial tax of $50/tC. All four alternative decision criteria rapidly improve as modest taxes are introduced, but gradually deteriorate if the tax is too high. That implies that the appropriate tax is an interior solution. In stark contrast to some of the interpretations of the Dismal Theorem, we find that fat tails by no means justify arbitrarily large carbon taxes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-237
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of Operations Research
Volume220
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Fingerprint

Tax
Climate policy
Decision criteria
Fat tails
Carbon tax
Confidence
Monte Carlo analysis
Welfare function
Time preference
Discount rate
P value
Uncertainty
Risk aversion
Tail risk
Emission reduction
Minimax regret
Probability density function
Nonstationarity
Greenhouse gas emissions

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Decision making under uncertainty
  • Deep uncertainty
  • Dismal Theorem
  • Fat-tailed risk
  • Integrated assessment

Cite this

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abstract = "We apply four alternative decision criteria, two old ones and two new, to the question of the appropriate level of greenhouse gas emission reduction. In all cases, we consider a uniform carbon tax that is applied to all emissions from all sectors and all countries; and that increases over time with the discount rate. For a one per cent pure rate of the time preference and a rate of risk aversion of one, the tax that maximises expected net present welfare equals $120/tC in 2010. However, we also find evidence that the uncertainty about welfare may well have fat tails so that the sample mean exists only by virtue of the finite number of runs in our Monte Carlo analysis. This is consistent with Weitzman's Dismal Theorem. We therefore consider minimax regret as a decision criterion. As regret is defined on the positive real line, we in fact consider large percentiles instead of the ill-defined maximum. Depending on the percentile used, the recommended tax lies between $100 and $170/tC. Regret is a measure of the slope of the welfare function, while we are in fact concerned about the level of welfare. We therefore minimise the tail risk, defined as the expected welfare below a percentile of the probability density function without climate policy. Depending on the percentile used, the recommended tax lies between $20 and $330/tC. We also minimise the fatness of the tails, as measured by the p-value of the test of the null hypothesis that recursive mean welfare is non-stationary in the number of Monte Carlo runs. We cannot reject the null hypothesis of non-stationarity at the 5 {\%} confidence level, but come closest for an initial tax of $50/tC. All four alternative decision criteria rapidly improve as modest taxes are introduced, but gradually deteriorate if the tax is too high. That implies that the appropriate tax is an interior solution. In stark contrast to some of the interpretations of the Dismal Theorem, we find that fat tails by no means justify arbitrarily large carbon taxes.",
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Climate policy under fat-tailed risk : An application of FUND. / Anthoff, David; Tol, Richard S.J.

In: Annals of Operations Research, Vol. 220, No. 1, 2014, p. 223-237.

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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