Using adaptation insurance to incentivize climate-change mitigation


Effective responses to climate change may demand a radical shift in human lifestyles away from self-interest for material gain, towards self-restraint for the public good. The challenge then lies in sustaining cooperative mitigation against the temptation to free-ride on others’ contributions, which can undermine public endeavours. When all possible future scenarios entail costs, however, the rationale for contributing to a public good changes from altruistic sacrifice of personal profit to necessary investment in minimizing personal debt. Here we demonstrate analytically how an economic framework of costly adaptation to climate change can sustain cooperative mitigation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We develop game-theoretic scenarios from existing examples of insurance for adaptation to natural hazards exacerbated by climate-change that bring the debt burden from future climate events into the present. We model the as-yet untried potential for leveraging public contributions to mitigation from personal costs of adaptation insurance, by discounting the insurance premium in proportion to progress towards a mitigation target. We show that collective mitigation targets are feasible for individuals as well as nations, provided that the premium for adaptation insurance in the event of no mitigation is at least four times larger than the mitigation target per player. This prediction is robust to players having unequal vulnerabilities, wealth, and abilities to pay. We enumerate the effects of these inequalities on payoffs to players under various sub-optimal conditions. We conclude that progress in mitigation is hindered by its current association with a social dilemma, which disappears upon confronting the bleak consequences of inaction.

Patrick Doncaster, Alessandro Tavoni, James G. Dyke. Ecological Economics, Vol. 135, May 2017, Pages 246–258