Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes

38 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2010 Last revised: 17 Nov 2010

See all articles by Carolyn Kousky

Carolyn Kousky

Resources for the Future

Olga Rostapshova

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Michael Toman

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Richard J. Zeckhauser

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 17, 2009

Abstract

There is a low but uncertain probability that climate change could trigger “mega-catastrophes,” severe and at least partly irreversible adverse effects across broad regions. This paper first discusses the state of current knowledge and the defining characteristics of potential climate change mega-catastrophes. While some of these characteristics present difficulties for using standard rational choice methods to evaluate response options, there is still a need to balance the benefits and costs of different possible responses with appropriate attention to the uncertainties. To that end, we present a qualitative analysis of three options for mitigating the risk of climate mega-catastrophes - drastic abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, development and implementation of geoengineering, and large-scale ex ante adaptation - against the criteria of efficacy, cost, robustness, and flexibility. We discuss the composition of a sound portfolio of initial investments in reducing the risk of climate change mega-catastrophes.

Keywords: climate change, catastrophe, risk, decisionmaking under uncertainty

JEL Classification: D81, Q54

Suggested Citation

Kousky, Carolyn and Rostapshova, Olga and Toman, Michael and Zeckhauser, Richard J., Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes (November 17, 2009). HKS Working Paper No. RWP10-008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1507992 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1507992

Carolyn Kousky (Contact Author)

Resources for the Future ( email )

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Olga Rostapshova

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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Michael Toman

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

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Richard J. Zeckhauser

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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