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Responding to Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes

Carolyn Kousky, Olga Rostapshova, Michael Toman, Richard Zeckhauser

Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government | October 9, 2009

CREDIT: Ammar Abd Rabbo (CC).


There is a low but uncertain probability that climate change could trigger "mega-catastrophes," severe and at least partly irreversible adverse effects across broad regions. This paper first discusses the state of current knowledge and the defining characteristics of potential climate change mega-catastrophes. While some of these characteristics present difficulties for using standard rational choice methods to evaluate response options, there is still a need to balance benefits and costs of different possible responses with appropriate attention to the uncertainties. To that end, we present a qualitative analysis of three options for mitigating the risk of climate mega-catastrophes—drastic abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, development and implementation of geo-engineering, and large-scale ex-ante adaptation—against the criteria of efficacy, cost, robustness, and flexibility. We discuss the composition of a sound portfolio of initial investments in reducing the risk of climate change mega-catastrophes.

Download: Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes (PDF, 148.38 K)

Read More: United States, Americas, Global

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