This paper extends the classical exhaustible-resource/stock-pollution model with irreversibility of pollution decay, meaning that after reaching some threshold there is no decay of the pollution stock. Within this framework, we answer the question how the potential irreversibility of pollution affects the extraction path. We investigate the conditions under which the economy will optimally adopt a reversible policy, and when it is optimal to enter the irreversible region. In the case of irreversibility it may be optimal to leave a positive amount of resource in the ground forever. As far as the optimal extraction/emission policy is concerned, several types of solutions may arise, including solutions where the economy stays at the threshold for a while. Given that different programs may satisfy the first order conditions for optimality, we further investigate when each of these is optimal. The analysis is illustrated by means of a calibrated example. To sum up, for any pollution level, we can identify a critical resource stock such that there exist multiple optima i.e. a reversible and an irreversible policy that yield exactly the same present value. For any resource stock below this critical value, the optimal policy is reversible whereas with large enough resources, irreversible policies outperform reversible programs. Finally, the comparison between irreversible policies reveals that it is never optimal for the economy to stay at the threshold for a while before entering the irreversible region.
Optimal emission-extraction policy in a world of scarcity and irreversibility
14 January 2014