Short-windedness Would Weaken Effective Climate Policy
Authors: Wilfried Rickels, Sonja Peterson (Environmental and Resource Economics, 2020, 76: 447–517)
Committing to rigid shutdown measures to contain the spreading of the corona virus has been undertaken on the tacit assumption that these measures will be temporary and can be loosened when the COVID-19 infection rates decrease and discontinued altogether once vaccines are available. Mitigating climate change and achieving ambitious temperature targets as set out in the Paris Agreement require a long-term structural change taking us away from our current carbon-intensive economy to a zero-carbon and then net-negative carbon economy. As current research holds out little hope that a “perfect” vaccine in the form of solar climate engineering will be available in the future, the measures and efforts required must translate into a permanent, ongoing form of commitment. While progressive climate change and the spread of the coronavirus operate on very different timescales, impatience about the duration of corona lockdown has indicated once more a fundamental problem for (long-term) environmental concerns. Clearly, the economic and social costs associated with the emergence of the virus and the shutdown are significant (Helm 2020, OECD 2020). But any serious cost–benefit analysis would need to take into account not only the fact that different degrees of lockdown are available but also that the overall cost is affected by the expectations of agents regarding possible future re-lockdowns due to insufficient containment of the virus. Seen thus, it is anything but clear at which point in time the actual cost of lockdown would have exceeded the economic cost of the virus spreading in an unmitigated (or insufficiently mitigated) way.