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Economics, ethics, and climate policy: framing the debate

Authors
Journal
Global and Planetary Change
0921-8181
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
11
Issue
4
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/0921-8181(95)00052-6
Keywords
  • Special Section: Human Dimensions Of Climate Change
Disciplines
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Philosophy

Abstract

Abstract This paper examines the economic and ethical dimensions of climate policy in light of existing knowledge of the impacts of global warming and the costs of greenhouse gas emissions abatement. We find that the criterion of economic efficiency, operationalized through cost-benefit analysis, is ill-equipped to cope with the pervasive uncertainties and issues of intergenerational fairness that characterize climate change. In contrast, the concept of sustainable development—that today's policies should ensure that future generations enjoy life opportunities undiminished relative to the present—is a normative criterion that explicitly addresses the uncertainties and distributional aspects of global environmental change. If one interprets the sustainability criterion to imply that it is morally wrong to impose catastrophic risks on unborn generations when reducing those risks would not noticeably diminish the quality of life of existing persons, a case can be made for significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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