The Surprisingly Cheap Path to Halting Climate Change

James West reports on the findings of a new report from the United Kingdom's leading climate change watchdog that confirms stopping climate change is much cheaper than you might think.

The report, "Statutory Advice on Inclusion of International Aviation and Shipping," produced by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), concludes that reaching the United Kingdom's emissions reduction target of 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050 will only cost 1 to 2 percent of total GDP.

The economic destruction argument has been used often in the United States to prevent significant government action on climate change. Among the examples referenced by West is the refusal of President Bush "to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, calling it a job killer that placed unfair economic burdens on the United States while letting poorer countries off the hook."

However, according David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, an independent statutory body charged with advising parliament on all things climate, "You don't need radical behavior and lifestyle change to achieve our climate objectives. It's a very, very small impact on growth. And what you get for that is a whole range of economic benefits."

Full Story: Stopping Climate Change Is Much Cheaper Than You Think



Cost of Controlling Climate Change

As the article points out, we in the United States have a similar study showing that it would be cheap to control climate change:

The Congressional Budget Office reported similar reductions would reduce the GDP here by 1 to 3.5 percent in 2050. One of the cosponsors of the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), said the scheme would cost the average family the equivalent of "about a postage stamp a day," far less than critics claimed.

That means that, if we had decided to reduce emissions 80% by 2050, it would take until 2051 or 2052 to reach the GDP that we would have in 2050 without controlling climate change.

The costs of climate change are far, far greater than that. The current drought in Texas is just a first installment; much of the midwest and southwest will turn into a dustbowl by 2050 if we don't control global warming.

Charles Siegel

Costs of man-made climate change.

we in the United States have a similar study showing that it would be cheap to control climate change:

What you forget to mention, Charles, is that controlling man-made climate change means a devastating loss of profit to the fossil-fuel industry. That is why we have inaction. Nothing is more important than maintaining fossil profits, and we can see this in action (or inaction, if you will) every day in DC.



Costs to the Dirty Energy Industry

I actually was thinking of adding that.

As Bill McKibben points out, we have to limit our carbon emissions to 565 gigatons to keep CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm and avoid the worst effects of global warming, but there are now proven world reserves of fossil fuels containing 2,795 gigatons of carbon. If we adopt effective limits on global warming, over 2,000 gigatons of carbon will never be used, and the dirty energy corporations will have to write off all those assets

Controlling climate change is cheap for the economy as a whole, but it involves losses for some very big and powerful corporations.

Is the balance sheet of Exxon more important, or is the well-being of our children more important?

Charles Siegel

Energy descent and the future.

Is the balance sheet of Exxon more important, or is the well-being of our children more important?

Our lawmakers and lobbyists clearly think the former.

McKibben wanting 350ppmv aside, we know several MYA ago when the atmosphere had as much C in it as today, it was ~3-4C warmer. Of course, human societies developed in a very narrow temp range nowhere near 3C warmer than today, so we better figure out how to order our affairs pretty quick. Otherwise even power wielded by the likes of Exxon won't



Gross vs net

Not all things included in the GDP are good things. They say avery time there is a car crash, the GDP goes up $50,000.

How would it affect the net domestic product? Would savings offset the costs? As the previous commenter suggested, would the costs prevented be larger than the costs of action? It's outside my area of expertise, but it seems quite possible that they would.

Costs of Climate Change

"Would savings offset the costs?"

There is uncertainty about the costs of global warming.

Harvard economist Martin Weitzman has said the the best economic argument for controlling global warming is that it is an insurance policy. The largest possible costs of global warming include the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, displacement of billions of people, and collapse of the world economy. Just as I pay for fire insurance on my house, though it is unlikely that there will be a fire, because the costs of a fire would ruin me financially, so Weitzman argues that we should pay the modest cost of controlling global warming, though this worst case scenario is unlikely, because the costs of the worst-case scenario would ruin the world.

In my opinion, economists generally have not been able to do valid cost-benefit analyses of global warming because they discount future costs - which does not work when you are talking about environmental costs that last thousands of years.

See where I write:

"if our current policies created a one-time environmental cost 3000 years from now that is 100 times as great as the total of the world's current GDP (which would involve overwhelming environmental damage), we would calculate that cost has a Present Value of less than 1 cent using Stern's discount rate [the lowest discount rate an economist has proposed to discount future costs of global warming].

"If people in the year 5000 live on an earth with dead oceans, with most of the land turned to desert, and with most of the species that now exist extinct, they will be shocked to look back and sees that, when the decisions about controlling global warming were being made, 3000 years earlier, even the economist who wanted to do the most to control global warming valued the environmental devastation they face as a cost of less than 1 cent per year."

So, I think it makes more sense to treat it as an ethical issue rather than as an economic issue: we have no moral right to put people at the risk of such great harm, even if economists discount that harm because it happens in the future.

Charles Siegel

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