Discounting and catastrophic risk management

Ermolieva T, Ermoliev Y, Fischer G, Makowski M, & Obersteiner M (2012). Discounting and catastrophic risk management. In: Risk Assessment and Management. Eds. Zhiyong, Z, Wyoming: Academy Publish. ISBN 978-0-9835850-0-8

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The risk management of complex coupled human-environmental systems essentially relies on discounting future losses and gains to their present values. These evaluations are used to justify catastrophic risks management decisions which may turn into benefits over long and uncertain time horizons. The misperception of proper discounting rates critically affects evaluations and may be rather misleading. Catastrophes are not properly treated within conventional economic theory. The lack of proper evaluations dramatically contributes to increasing the vulnerability of our society to human-made and natural disasters. Underestimation of rare low probability - high consequences potentially catastrophic scenarios (events) have led to the growth of buildings and industrial land and sizable value accumulation in flood (and other disaster) prone areas without paying proper attention to flood mitigations. A challenge is that an extreme event, say a once-in-300-year flood which occurs on average only once in 300 years, may have never occurred before in a given region. Therefore, purely adaptive policies relying on historical observations provide no awareness of the risk although, a 300-year flood may occur next year. For example, floods in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic in 2002 were classified as 1000-, 500-, 250-, and 100-year events. Chernobyl nuclear disaster was evaluated as 106-year event. Yet common practice is to ignore these types of events as improbable events during a human lifetime. This paper analyzes the implications of potentially catastrophic events on the choice of discounting for long-term catastrophic risk management. It is shown that arbitrary discounting can be linked to "stopping time" events, which define the discount-related random horizon ("end of the world") of valuations. In other words, any discounting compares potential gains and losses only within a finite random discount-related stopping time horizon. The expected duration of this horizon for standard discount rates obtained from capital markets does not exceed a few decades and, as such, these rates cannot properly evaluate impacts of 1000-, 500-, 250-, 100- year catastrophes. The paper demonstrates that the correct discounting can be induced by the concept of stopping time, i.e. by explicit modelling of arrival time scenarios of potential catastrophes. In general, catastrophic events affect the induced discount rates, which alter the optimal mitigation efforts that, in turn, change events. The paper shows that stopping-time related discounting calls for the use of stochastic optimisation methods. Combined with explicit spatio-temporal catastrophe modelling, this induces the discounting which allows to properly focus risk management solutions on arrival times of potential catastrophic events rather then horizons of capital markets.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Programs: Advanced Systems Analysis (ASA)
Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM)
Water (WAT)
Bibliographic Reference: In: Z Zhiyong (ed.); Risk Assessment and Management; Academy Publish, Wyoming, USA
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 08:47
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2016 16:02

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