Climate change mitigation cost-benefit analysis on different timescales

Peter Lilley, a British Member of Parliament, seems to have rather missed the point of climate change legislation. He is kicking up a fuss about how the UK’s Climate Change Bill might have costs larger than benefits in the period between now and 2050. Of course, the whole point of climate change mitigation is to avoid the worst effects of climate change and not leave future generations with a severely damaged planet. Almost by definition, the majority of the benefits associated with such an approach will accrue in the distant future.

Even if mitigating climate change has serious net costs between now and 2050, we still need to do it, at least if we care at all about the welfare of future generations and the integrity of the planet. That being said, we can certainly hope to mitigate effectively at a relatively low cost (taking advantage of mechanisms like carbon pricing to secure the lowest cost emission reductions first). We can also work to maximize the co-benefits of climate change mitigation, such an enhancing energy security and reducing other types of air pollution.

It is also entirely possible that we will end up spending more money on climate change than we should have, or than would have been possible if we had taken the best possible approach from the outset. To use an analogy, it is possible for a speeding car to brake too sharply to avoid hitting a pedestrian. Doing so jostles the driver and may damage the car, but it is a less undesirable outcome than braking too hesitantly and ploughing right into the person. When you are making a decision with important consequences and lots of uncertainty, erring on the side of caution and expense is the prudent and ethical approach.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

8 thoughts on “Climate change mitigation cost-benefit analysis on different timescales”

  1. Hilarious. I bet Cameron at al are pissed off. He’s the Tory MP for a constituency close to where I’m registered to vote and I don’t reckon it’ll put the North Londoners off voting for him any; there’s really no shortage of people recklessly driving huge gas guzzling cars in Hitchin.

  2. I hope I never have to own a car that is so poorly made that it can be damaged by its own breaking force.

  3. Environmental politics
    A rod for our backs

    Nov 20th 2008
    From The Economist print edition
    Britain decides that climate change is too important to leave to the politicians

    “GIVE me chastity and continence, but not yet,” Saint Augustine besought God more than a millennium ago. Those worried by global warming but unwilling to change their behaviour take a similar approach. Evidence of the damage that economic activity does to the planet is mounting, but given the cheapness and convenience of fossil fuels, the temptation to avoid tackling climate change for just another year (and another and another) is hard to resist. This is even truer as economic woes mount.

    Britain’s government thinks it has a solution, and it is one that so far no other country has adopted. The approach is rather like that of a desperate dieter padlocking his pantry. If all goes according to plan, a climate-change bill will be passed next week that takes the power to set carbon-reduction goals away from politicians and enshrines them in law. A climate-change committee will recommend five-year carbon budgets for different parts of the economy, such as power generation, transport and manufacturing, with the ultimate goal of cutting emissions by 80% from their 1990 levels by the time 2050 rolls around.

  4. A jpeg would be ideal, I don’t have any software to work with RAW files.

    This photo makes me want to use my SLR more.

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