Policy makers should not discount the damages from future climate tipping points

March 23, 2015
A composite image of the Western hemisphere of the Earth. Credit: NASA

Society should set a high carbon tax now to try and prevent climate change reaching a point of no return according to a new study.

The research, carried out by the Universities of Exeter, Zurich, Stanford and Chicago and published today in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the prospect of an tipping point should greatly increase the amount we are willing to pay now to limit . Depending on the of an in climate and how quickly this is felt, the cost of emitted now increases by 50 - 200%. Setting a correspondingly high carbon tax would trigger a reduction in that delays the tipping point.

The researchers developed a model to investigate how the uncertainty surrounding should influence climate policy. Based on expert input, the likelihood that human activities will push the climate system past a tipping point increases from 2.5% in 2050 to nearly 50% in 2200 in their baseline scenario.

Professor Tim Lenton from the University of Exeter said: "Our results support recent suggestions that the costs of carbon emissions used to inform policy are being underestimated.

"We are calling on policy makers to respond to the prospect of triggering future climate tipping points by applying the brakes now and putting a high price on carbon emissions before it is too late.

"The additional that our model recommends can be thought of as an insurance premium levied on society to delay irreversible damages in the future."

Most methods that weigh up the costs and benefits of tackling climate change ignore climate tipping points and especially the uncertainty surrounding them. Instead they assume that future damages from climate change are known perfectly and can therefore be discounted at a rate comparable to the market interest rate - reducing the willingness to pay now to protect future generations.

In the new model, the prospect of an uncertain tipping point gave a very different result - that we should be more willing to pay now to reduce the likelihood of a future tipping point and should discount its damages at a very low rate - even if they are most likely to occur far in the future.

This is the first quantitative model to demonstrate that low discounting of climate damages can emerge from a pure market-based approach - it does not have to be based on moral judgements about sustainability and the wellbeing of future generations - although these are of course important considerations.

The potential tipping points considered in the study were a collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation; irreversible melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet; collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; dieback of the Amazon rainforest; or an increase in the amplitude of the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

Explore further: Scientists warn on climate tipping points

More information: Stochastic integrated assessment of climate tipping points indicates the need for strict climate policy, Nature Climate Change, 2015. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2570

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Doberman70
2.4 / 5 (8) Mar 23, 2015
This problem will not be solved by policy makers as the world will not and likely cannot curb it's energy needs. We will either develop new technologies that are as affordable, efficient and readily available as fossil fuels or we won't. All a carbon tax does is make it so some can make money off of this while making things much more difficult on the majority of us.
paulraup
2.2 / 5 (10) Mar 23, 2015
The United Nations has already stated that it's primary goal is the death of Capitalism. The problem, of course, is that things like climate, economies, plate tectonics and human nature remain unmanageable even by the "experts"..........
Remove all fossil fuels and 7 billion people will strip the Earth of all vegetation just trying to keep warm the first winter, making food production problematical, but solving the overpopulation problem.
NO ONE has the right to choose who survives..........
fire3000
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 23, 2015
Putting a price on carbon is a logical way to encourage the development of carbon free energy sources and improve energy efficiency through free market forces.
hevster1
2 / 5 (8) Mar 23, 2015
To the author; You want another Tax? You pay for it. We are already taxed to death. The well is dry. The only other thing would be to take tax money meant for other things such as social programs and use it for this.
Just exactly how will a carbon tax help? It is NOT at all a logical way to encourage the development of carbon free energy. Sorry fire3000, you are totally wrong. Look, the only way AGW could be reversed is to IMMEDIATELY limit population growth WORLDWIDE. That's not going to happen. No amount of extra taxation will help anyone except the politicians. If you believe otherwise you are a total fool. All a carbon tax will do is make life worse for those who can ill afford it.
leetennant
4 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2015
Yeah, heyster1, 90 companies are responsible for the majority of emissions - most of them from the US - yet somehow the solution isn't to force those 90 companies to stop producing those emissions. Instead we should implement what would, in practice, be mass murder and forced sterilisation: no doubt of black people since we sure as shit don't care about population control of white people. Overpopulation is a huge problem but it has NOTHING to do with climate change.

That's why a tax of those 90 companies to fund research and development into alternative energy sources is exactly the solution. And if they were to actually pay the tax they owe, it would lower your overall cost of living as well. But I guess if you have the pockets of the Koch's you can convince dumbasses to pay more to get less and ruin the planet at the same time.
Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2015
Policy makers should not use flawed and insufficient mathematical models to make expensive financial decisions. - Dyson, Seitz, Pournelle, various.

worried about CO2? plant more trees, dump biological available iron compounds into the ocean.

worried about warming? increase the planetary albedo: Paint all roofs white. Cooling? Decrease albedo.
leetennant
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2015
increase the planetary albedo

You mean by, like, NOT melting the Arctic? Like that? Yeah, planting more trees will totally fix that. Boy the silly just keeps getting sillier.

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