By Irina Ivanova, Rachel Layne
Even the most promising solutions to climate change often run smack into the challenge of how to pay for them. As the United Nations’ COP26 summit kicks off in Scotland on Sunday, questions about whether poorer countries can afford to reduce their emissions for the global good and whether richer countries — which account for the vast majority of the world’s carbon emissions — are doing enough to help them are expected to take center stage.
Yet the cost of fighting climate change must be weighed against the staggering economic toll of losing the war. Indeed, the financial damage from runaway climate change could surpass the amount of money that currently exists on the planet, according to one estimate.
Today, global warming had already reduced U.S. economic output by about 1% — or $200 billion, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Science. But as the mercury rises, the costs increase exponentially. If the global temperature reaches 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 — described by experts as a catastrophic scenario — the costs per degree would soar by a factor of four, the same study predicts. In other words, if the world continues on its current trajectory to reach 4 degrees of warming, that change could cause 10 times the economic damage.
In that future world, climate damage would lead to nearly $1 trillion in costs by the end of the century, said Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago and one of the authors of the Science paper, calling it “a worst-case scenario.” Other research puts the price tag even higher, with the U.S. potentially losing $2 trillion in growth by 2100 if greenhouse gases soar.
As experts try to quantify the economic costs of large-scale planetary destruction, more Americans are waking up to the risks. Almost two-thirds now think addressing climate change should be a top priority, the Pew Research Center found in May, and a majority of the U.S. public supports paying for policies that would curb climate change, an AP-NORC poll revealed this month.