How large a risk is society prepared to run with the climate system? This is a question of the utmost difficulty and it admits a variety of perspectives. In this paper we draw an analogy with the management and regulation of insurance companies, which are required to hold capital against the risk of their own financial ruin. Accordingly, we suggest that discussions about how much to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases could be framed in terms of managing the risk of ‘climate ruin’. This shifts the focus towards deciding upon an acceptable risk of the very worst-case scenario, and away from how “avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” has come to be framed politically. Moreover it leads to the conclusion that, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions today and in the future, the world is running a higher risk with the climate system than insurance companies run with their own solvency.

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