Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 21–46 | Cite as

Scientific Ambiguity and Climate Policy



Economic evaluation of climate policy traditionally treats uncertainty by appealing to expected utility theory. Yet our knowledge of the impacts of climate policy may not be of sufficient quality to be described by unique probabilistic beliefs. In such circumstances, it has been argued that the axioms of expected utility theory may not be the correct standard of rationality. By contrast, several axiomatic frameworks have recently been proposed that account for ambiguous knowledge. In this paper, we apply static and dynamic versions of a smooth ambiguity model to climate mitigation policy. We obtain a general result on the comparative statics of optimal abatement and ambiguity aversion, and then extend our analysis to a more realistic, dynamic setting, where we introduce scientific ambiguity into the well-known DICE model of the climate-economy system. For policy-relevant exogenous mitigation policies, we show that the value of emissions abatement increases as ambiguity aversion increases, and that this ‘ambiguity premium’ can in some plausible cases be very large. In these cases the effect of ambiguity aversion on welfare is comparable to that of other much studied welfare parameters. Thus ambiguity aversion may be an important neglected aspect of climate change economics, and seems likely to provide another argument for strong abatement policy.


Climate change Uncertainty Ambiguity 

JEL Classification

Q54 D81 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agricultural and Resource EconomicsUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the EnvironmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Geography and EnvironmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  4. 4.Columbia Business SchoolColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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