Economics of tipping the climate dominoes
Christian Traeger and Derek Lemoine.
Photo: Springer Nature
Nature Climate Change, volume 6, issue 5, pp. 514-519, May 2016.
Greenhouse gas emissions can trigger irreversible regime shifts in the climate system, known as tipping points. Multiple tipping points affect each other’s probability of occurrence, potentially causing a ‘domino effect’. We analyse climate policy in the presence of a potential domino effect. We incorporate three different tipping points occurring at unknown thresholds into an integrated climate–economy model. The optimal emission policy considers all possible thresholds and the resulting interactions between tipping points, economic activity, and policy responses into the indefinite future. We quantify the cost of delaying optimal emission controls in the presence of uncertain tipping points and also the benefit of detecting when individual tipping points have been triggered. We show that the presence of these tipping points nearly doubles today’s optimal carbon tax and reduces peak warming along the optimal path by approximately 1 °C. The presence of these tipping points increases the cost of delaying optimal policy until mid-century by nearly 150%.