The economics of abrupt climate change

Charles Perrings, J. M. Ziman, Ch Körner, N. Crumpton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The US National Research Council defines abrupt climate change as a change of state that is sufficiently rapid and sufficiently widespread in its effects that economies are unprepared or incapable of adapting. This may be too restrictive a definition, but abrupt climate change does have implications for the choice between the main response options: mitigation (which reduces the risks of climate change) and adaptation (which reduces the costs of climate change). The paper argues that by (i) increasing the costs of change and the potential growth of consumption, and (ii) reducing the time to change, abrupt climate change favours mitigation over adaptation. Furthermore, because the implications of change are fundamentally uncertain and potentially very high, it favours a precautionary approach in which mitigation buys time for learning. Adaptation-oriented decision tools, such as scenario planning, are inappropriate in these circumstances. Hence learning implies the use of probabilistic models that include socioeconomic feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2043-2059
Number of pages17
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number1810
StatePublished - Sep 15 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Abrupt climate change
  • Adaptation
  • Mitigation
  • Precautionary principle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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