Climatic Change

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 283–324

The Greenhouse Externality to Childbearing: A Sensitivity Analysis

  • Brian C. O'Neill
  • Lee Wexler

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005627509071

Cite this article as:
O'Neill, B.C. & Wexler, L. Climatic Change (2000) 47: 283. doi:10.1023/A:1005627509071


Externalities to childbearing measurecosts or benefits associated with the birth of a child that fallon society but are not considered in the parents'fertility decisions. Externalities are a key part ofthe theoretical justification for policies that affectfertility behavior. Environmental externalitiespotentially constitute a significant part of the netexternality to childbearing, but few estimates oftheir magnitude have been made. Here we estimate the`greenhouse externality' to childbearing resultingfrom the increased CO2 abatement costs necessitated byan additional birth assuming atmospheric CO2 levelsare eventually stabilized, and examine the sensitivityof the results to a number of factors. We find thatthe greenhouse externality, calculated over the period1995–2100, is generally negative and in most casesranges from several hundred to several thousanddollars per birth. These estimates are most sensitiveto the discount rate and the institutionalarrangements, such as the allowance of emissionstrading, according to which reductions are made. Theyare less sensitive to, although still significantlyaffected by, the stabilization level, the timing ofreductions, future population growth, and theabatement cost function. Estimates of impacts on MDCsand LDCs considered separately demonstrate that theexternality can be truly global, in that effects ofbirths in one region can spill over onto the other. In general, negative externalities rival or, in somecases, greatly exceed estimates of the costs ofaverting births. Investments in fertility-relatedpopulation policies such as voluntary family planningservices and female education are considered desirablein their own right; these results indicate that theycan also be considered likely candidates for costeffective `no-regrets' climate change policy.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian C. O'Neill
    • 1
  • Lee Wexler
    • 2
  1. 1.Watson Institute for International Studies and Center for EnvironmentalStudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceU.S.A.
  2. 2.International Institute for Applied Systems AnalysisLaxenburgAustria

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