The World is Dangerously Lowballing the Economic Cost of Climate Change
Leading global forecasts widely underestimate the future costs of climate change, a new paper warns. Current estimates for how much climate change will cost take different forms. One recent study looked at projected damage by U.S. county, finding that some counties in low-lying Florida, for example, would see costs of up to 30 percent of their gross domestic product. Other projections are more broad, putting the worldwide figure at $535 trillion by the end of this century.
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“It’s difficult to quantify that,” said study co-author Thomas Stoerk, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, when asked to give his own estimate. “That’s part of the point of the paper. It could be a lot more than the consensus.”
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The paper breaks down into three main points:
- Current projections virtually ignore a very real possibility: that events such as the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet or the faster-than-expected thawing of Arctic permafrost will act like kerosene on a bonfire. These could increase the rate of climate change astronomically.
- These forecasts are based on an average of all possible climate change scenarios, even though newer models account for the increased likelihood of more warming.
- The newer modelsare still largely abstract, but they also factor in how human uncertainty over climate change can potentially cause even more damage in the future.
“We have models that allow us to rank the probabilities,” Stoerk said. “There are some models out there that quantify how much the uncertainty itself ― not knowing what’s going to happen ― drives economic estimates.”
Models that rely on averages of warming possibilities fail to factor in new data that show the continued rise in emissions makes the lower-end projections impossible, he said. Newer models, however, account for that reality.
The findings come as policy attempts to rein in the world’s greenhouse gas output fall flat. Fossil fuel emissions hit an all-time high last year, causing global carbon dioxide pollution to surge for the first time in three years ― dashing hopes that the production of planet-warming pollution peaked.