Stergios Athanassoglou on Pollution control: when, and how, to be precautious

Speaker:  Stergios Athanassoglou - Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change
  Monday, September 12, 2011 at 12:30 PM Aula Messedaglia, Chiostro di Storia

The precautionary principle (PP) applied to environmental policy stipulates that, in the pres-
ence of physical uncertainty, society must take take robust preventive action to guard against
worst-case outcomes. It follows that the higher the degree of uncertainty, the more aggressive
this preventive action should be. This normative maxim is explored in the case of a stylized dy-
namic model of pollution control under Knightian uncertainty. At time 0 a decisionmaker makes
a one-time investment in damage-control technology and subsequently decides on a desirable
dynamic emissions policy. Adopting the robust control framework of Hansen and Sargent [10],
we investigate optimal damage-control and mitigation policies. We show that optimal invest-
ment in damage control is always increasing in the degree of uncertainty, thus confi rming the
conventional PP wisdom. Optimal mitigation decisions, however, need not always comport with
the PP and we provide analytical conditions that sway the relationship one way or the other.
This result is interesting when contrasted to a model with fi xed damage-control technology, in
which it can be easily shown that a PP vis-a-vis mitigation unambiguously holds. We conduct
a set of numerical experiments to determine the sensitivity of our results to specifi c functional
forms of damage-control cost. We fi nd that when the cost of damage-control technology is low
enough, damage-control investment and mitigation may act as substitutes and a PP with respect
to the latter can be unambiguously irrational.

Title Format  (Language, Size, Publication date)
Paper  pdfpdf (it, 566 KB, 05/09/11)

Programme Director
Angelo Zago

Publication date
February 23, 2011