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Climate Treaties and Approaching Catastrophes

Joint Bank-Fund Brown-Bag Research Seminars on Environment and Energy:

Scott Barrett, Columbia University

Climate Treaties and Approaching Catastrophes
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
12.30-2 pm

Venue: MC2-850

If the threshold that triggers a climate catastrophe is known with certainty, and the net benefits of avoiding catastrophe are high, treaties can easily coordinate to avoid the threshold. Where these conditions do not apply, treaties typically fail to help countries cooperate to cut emissions. Multiple thresholds amplify free riding. Backstop technologies enlarge the space in which coordination is effective, but also expand the space in which cooperation is needed. Uncertainty about the magnitude of catastrophic damages is relatvely unimportant. Uncertainty about the catastrophic threshold is critical. Whether the probability density function has "thin" or "fat" tails makes little difference.

Scott Barrett is the Lenfest-Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics at SIPA and the Earth Institute, Columbia University in New York City. He has held previous positions at the London Business School, and at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where he directed the International Policy program. Barrett's research focuses on transnational and global challenges, ranging from climate change to infectious diseases. He is the author of Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making (2003), and Why Cooperate? The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods (2010), both published by Oxford University Press. Barrett's research has been awarded the Resources for the Future Dissertation Prize and the Erik Kempe Award. He has advised several international organizations including the United Nations, the World Bank, the OECD, the European Commission, and the International Task Force on Global Public Goods. He has been lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a member of the Academic Panel to the Department of Environment in the UK.  Scott Barrett is a research fellow with the Beijer Institute (Stockholm), CESifo (Munich), and the Kiel Institute of World Economics. He received his PhD in economics from the London School of Economics.
For further information on the presentation, contact Jon Strand at:, 202-458-5122
The Joint Bank-Fund Brown-Bag Research Seminars on Environment and Energy is a joint initiative between the Development Research Group, Environment and Energy Team (DECEE), World Bank, and the Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF. Organizers of the series are Jon Strand (DECEE), and Ruud de Mooij and Ian Parry (FAD/IMF). The seminars are held at lunch time, normally once every two weeks, alternately in the Bank and Fund. Aims of the seminars are to raise attention to, and interest in, environment, energy and natural resources issues in both institutions; to promote the interaction between the two institutions in these fields; and to improve the institutions' common work on policy.

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