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Working Paper: New Research Suggests that Emissions Reductions May Be a Risky and Very Expensive Way to Avoid Dangerous Global Climate Changes

Paper Number: 2007-07

Document Date: 06/2007

Author(s): Alan Carlin

Subject Area(s): Climate Change; Environmental Policy; Institutional Issues: General

Keywords: global warming control; global climate change control; implementation

Abstract: Proponents of greenhouse gas emissions reductions have long assumed that such reductions are the best approach to global climate change control and sometimes argued that they are the least risky approach. It is now generally understood that to be effective such reductions would have to involve most of the world and be very extensive and rapidly implemented. This paper examines the question of whether it is feasible to use only this approach to control dangerous global climate changes, the most critical of the climate change control objectives. I show that in one of two critical cases analyzed recent papers provide evidence that such an approach is not a feasible single approach to avoiding the dangerous climate changes predicted by a very prominent group of US climate change researchers. In the other case using a widely accepted international standard I show that such an approach appears to be very risky and much more expensive than previously thought. These conclusions further reinforce previous research that emissions reductions alone do not appear to be an effective and efficient single strategy for climate change control. So although emissions reductions can play a useful role in climate change control, other approaches would appear to be needed if dangerous climate changes are to be avoided. This conclusion suggests that the current proposals in a number of Western European countries and the United States to use emissions reductions as the sole means to control global warming may be doomed to failure in terms of avoiding such dangerous changes. An alternative approach is briefly discussed that would be more effective and efficient, and could avoid the perilous risks and high costs inherent in an emissions reduction only approach.

This paper is part of the Environmental Economics Working Paper Series.

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