Climate change explained: how much will it cost? | FT


How much will climate change
cost if we do nothing now? Well, the answer to that in
some sense is, we don’t know. But, last year the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
put out a report where it estimated that,
if nothing was done and if warming increased
to 1.5 degrees Celsius, bearing in mind
we’ve already had about one degree of warming, the
global cost of climate change damages is likely
to be around $54tn by the end of the century. If we reach 2 degrees of
warming their estimate is that by the
end of the century we could be looking at
$69tn worth of damage. But there’s a lot more to
costs than just economics. There’s the survival
of life, some of which we are dependent upon. Two degrees is too warm for
most of the coral in the ocean. So about 99 per cent of
corals would be gone. Changes to ocean temperature
and ocean acidification would also mean that the
global catch of fisheries would be about half of
what it is at 2 degrees. So focusing on the costs
in narrow economic terms for a transformation of this
scale and irreversibility just seems inappropriate. Sea level rises are important. Desertification, the
expansion of deserts, and the shift of rainfall
patterns across the globe, could be immensely important
in affecting humans’ ability to carry out agriculture,
indeed to survive. We could also see intensified
conflict, migration. The combination of extreme
weather and higher seas is going to make living
near the coast much riskier. And many of the changes that
climate change will bring are really going to
stress governance systems. The big message is if we
can hold global warming to 1.5 rather than
2 degrees, we’ll be a whole lot better off. The trouble is, in order to
avoid 1.5 degrees of warming, we need to halve emissions
from what they are now by 2030. And then we need to bring them
down to around net zero, almost nothing by 2050. That’s incredibly difficult.
No other generation has done this before. So the sensible way
of thinking about this is, there are huge
irreversible risks here. They will have economic
and many other costs. And if we’re sensible, we
don’t want to run these risks.

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