Analysis Shows Benefits, Costs of Climate Change Action, Inaction

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 22 released a comprehensive analysis of the benefits of climate change for the U.S. economy and the health of citizens and the environment. Entitled “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action,” the report is the latest in a series of science-based federal government research intended to inform and guide policymakers in the run-up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st Conference of Parties (COP-21) in Paris this December.

EPA Report: Benefits of Global Action

A peer-reviewed study, the EPA’s “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action” investigates the potential for globally concerted action to avoid or reduce the impacts of a warming climate. The analysis explores two future scenarios: one in which the global community of nations takes strong enough action to limit climate warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and one in which no action is taken. The latter case would result in a global average temperature rise of 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) by the end of the century.

They then proceed to estimate and project the costs of the impacts of climate change under these two scenarios in terms of health, infrastructure and ecosystem impacts. This results in estimates of the costs of climate change inaction, as well as the benefits that would result from reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A cost-benefit analysis of climate change impacts

One of the world’s first initiatives dedicated to quantifying the effects of projected climate warming on U.S. society and ecosystems, the report was produced by the Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis project. Through CIRA, the federal government agency works in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to carry out its mission.

Among the report’s key takeaways:

  • Global action on climate change reduces the frequency of extreme weather events and associated impacts. For example, by 2100 global action on climate change is projected to avoid an estimated 12,000 deaths annually associated with extreme temperatures in 49 U.S. cities, compared to a future with no reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than a 90 percent reduction from what we would expect with no action.
  • Global action now leads to greater benefits over time. The decisions we make today will have long-term effects, and future generations will either benefit from, or be burdened by, our current actions. Compared to a future with unchecked climate change, climate action is projected to avoid approximately 13,000 deaths in 2050 and 57,000 deaths annually in 2100 from poor air quality. Delaying action on emissions reductions will likely reduce these and other benefits.
  • Global action on climate change avoids costly damages in the United States. For nearly all of the 20 sectors studied, global action on climate change significantly reduces the economic damages of climate change. For example, without climate action, we estimated up to $10 billion in increased road maintenance costs each year by the end of the century. With action, we can avoid up to $7 billion of these damages.
  • Climate change impacts are not equally distributed. Some regions of the United States are more vulnerable than others and will bear greater impacts. For example, without action on climate change, California is projected to face increasing risk of drought, the Rocky Mountain region will see significant increases in wildfires, and the mid-Atlantic and Southeast are projected to experience infrastructure damage from extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, sea level rise, and storm surge.
  • Adaptation can reduce damages and costs. For some sectors, adaptation can substantially reduce the impacts of climate change. For example, in a future without greenhouse gas reductions, estimated damages from sea-level rise and storm surge to coastal property in the lower 48 states are $5.0 trillion dollars through 2100. With adaptation along the coast, the estimated damages and adaptation costs are reduced to $810 billion.

Summary of benefits of climate change action, costs of inaction

Commenting on the report’s results, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated: “Will the United States benefit from climate action? Absolutely. This report shows us how costly inaction will be to Americans’ health, our environment and our society.

“But more importantly, it helps us understand the magnitude of benefits to a number of sectors of the U.S. with global climate action. We can save tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, annually in the United States by the end of this century, but the sooner we act, the better off America and future generations of Americans will be.”


*Image credits: EPA

*Featured image  credit: Dawn Ellner, courtesy flickr

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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