Counting costs of climate change

October 12th, 2017 by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Global warming impacts cause substantial economic damages, hurts human health in many ways, influences the drivers of human migration, and it can jeopardise development for many of the world’s poor.

Destabilising the climate can destabilise societies.

Counting the costs of climate change is a challenge since the social costs can be hard to calculate and include the impact of human suffering.

Hermann Lotze-Campen, Professor at the Agricultural Economics Department at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and chair of Research Domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities at PIK, said “science shows that limiting global warming is much cheaper than just doing nothing about it – the costs of inaction could be a multiple of the 2% of global economic output that mitigation might roughly cost.”

“However, these current estimates don’t take into account the costs of health impacts and additional deaths, of people leaving their homes, of potential mass-migration, and of sustained poverty.

These are complex issues we are trying to address scientifically, along with the economic costs and damages,” he said.

Koko Warner, who’s an expert on migration issues at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said “climate change is a central issue of human welfare and sustainable development — the ‘costs’ of climate change can feel highest for the people who have to leave their homes.”

”In all cases of human mobility — displacement from storms, the scramble for climate-proof livelihoods, or the search for habitable places when return to homelands isn’t possible anymore — climate change requires a new level of resilience.”

Climate change impacts such as droughts may contribute to already smouldering local conflicts and, in some cases, trigger the outbreak of violence.

Soil drying out due to drought (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

“Countries of origin, transit, and destination will need to join efforts to bolster resilience through a continuum of approaches,” Koko Warner said.

“First, there is a pressing need to preempt climate impacts and expand adaptation options for people worldwide.”

“Second, we need plans for mobility that is safe, dignified, and regular when it occurs for areas of origin, transit countries, and areas of destination.”

“Third, areas of origin and destination will need contingency arrangements to share the burden of transitions, which may include longer-term changes in where and how people live.”

Stéphane Hallegatte from the World Bank said the “economic costs are more than just dollars.”

“When asked about the cost of climate change, people too often focus on an absolute amount, in dollars or percent of GDP.”

“We need a more comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change, looking at multiple dimensions like poverty and inequality, that will help inform policymakers who need to design the policies that will protect tomorrow’s populations and economies.”

Economic costs do not only include damages for instance from weather extremes, which can spread through global supply chains, but also productivity reductions due to heat stress for workers.

Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Great Britain, said “climate change is a growing threat to human health through a range of pathways.”

“For example, in the absence of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions increasing exposure to extreme heat is likely to affect hundreds of millions of people by mid-century, such that formerly rare heat events become a regular occurrence.”

Preliminary results of large multi-country analyses indicate that increased heat-related deaths will greatly exceed reductions in cold-related mortality in some regions, in particular warmer and poorer areas that are projected to include a substantial part of the global population.”

In addition, in these regions the increased heat exposure will progressively reduce the ability to work outdoors.

“Climate change will also affect the incidence and distribution of vector-borne diseases such as, for example, those transmitted by mosquitoes,” Andy Haines said.

“The number of cases of the common vector-borne disease Dengue have doubled every decade since 1990 and climate change has been suggested as one potential contributor to this increasing burden.”

“The principal mosquito vectors of Dengue also carry other important emerging or re-emerging virus diseases including Yellow Fever, Chikungunya and Zika viruses, which are also likely to be affected by climate change.”

A member of a squad of the Public Health Ministry of Thailand sprays mosquito repellent in a street, outside Bangkok, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Dengue is a threat to nearly 3 billion people and a health priority in many countries of Latin America and Asia where epidemics occur. It is also one of the leading causes of fever among travellers to endemic areas. (Patrick de Noirmont/Sanofi Pasteur – creative commons license) (click image to expand)

“Reductions in crop yield and changes in nutritional quality due to climate and other environmental changes also pose serious threats to health, particularly to populations living in tropical regions,” Andy Haines said.

“Preliminary analyses demonstrate that these impacts can be substantially reduced under scenarios of lower emissions of greenhouse gases and reduced global warming.”

“In fact, there are also major opportunities to reduce the emissions whilst improving health in the near term, for example as a result of reductions in air pollution from increased use of clean renewable energy, increased consumption of healthy and more sustainable diets and increased physical activity from sustainable transport policies.”

“Recognition and valuation of these co-benefits to health can incentivise the implementation of policies for climate change mitigation and thus reduce the risks of exposure to dangerous climate change.”

Johan Rockström from Stockholm University, said “the science is now clear, attaining the Paris climate agreement of reducing human caused global warming to under 2°C is necessary to stand a chance of succeeding with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eradicate hunger and poverty and enable economic development and good lives for all citizens in the world.”

“Climate risks are so high, they may undermine world development.”

“But the reverse is also true. Attaining the SDGs, which entails a world transformation to global sustainable development, is necessary to succeed with the Paris climate agreement.”

“This means we have no choice. Global sustainability is our path to the future”.

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