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M-RCBG Faculty Working Paper Series No. 2018-05

Confronting Deep and Persistent Climate Uncertainty
Gernot Wagner and Richard Zeckhauser

December 2018

Abstract

Deep-seated, persistent uncertainty is a pernicious feature of climate change. One key parameter, equilibrium climate sensitivity, has eluded almost all attempts to pin down more precisely than a ‘likely’ range that has stalled at 1.5–4.5°C for over thirty-five years. The marginal damages due to temperature increase rise rapidly. Thus, uncertainty in climate sensitivity significantly raises the expected costs of climate change above what they would be if the temperature increase was known to be close to a mean value of 3.0°C. The cost of this uncertainty is compounded given that the distribution of possible temperature changes is strongly skewed toward higher values.

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