Flashback: Scientists Find $1240 TRILLION In Climate Impacts On Current CO2 Path, So We Must Mitigate To Under 450 PPM

Since confusionists keep low-balling the cost of climate inaction, here’s a repost from 2009 about a study that received too little attention at the time.

Scientists led by a former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [warn] that the UN negotiations aimed at tackling climate change are based on substantial underestimates of what it will cost to adapt to its impacts.

The real costs of adaptation are likely to be 2-3 times greater than estimates made by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), say Professor Martin Parry and colleagues in a new report published by the International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED].

And as the IIED reported, the study Assessing the costs of adaptation to climate change: a review of the UNFCCC and other recent estimates concludes costs will be even more when the full range of climate impacts on human activities is considered.

The study finds that the mean “Net present value of climate change impacts” in the A2 scenario is $1240 TRILLION with no adaptation, but “only” $890 trillion with adaptation.

The mean [annual] impacts in 2060 are about $1.5 trillion….  As usual, there is a long right tail, with a small probability of impacts as large as $20 trillion.

Don’t worry folks, it’s only a “small probability” — but that “fat tail” by itself is enough to render all traditional economic analyses useless (see Harvard economist: Climate cost-benefit analyses are “unusually misleading,” warns colleagues “we may be deluding ourselves and others”).  Let’s put aside the fact we are on pace to exceed the A2 scenario (which is “only” about 850 ppm atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in 2100).  For this country, the A2 scenario means 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year.

But here’s the key point the media and the authors failed to convey.  In the “aggressive abatement” case (450 ppm), the mean “Net present value [NPV] of climate change impacts” is only $410 trillion — or $275 trillion with adaptation.  So stabilizing at 450 ppm reduces NPV impacts by $615 to $830 trillion.  But the abatement NPV cost is only $110 trillion — a 6-to-1 savings or better.

Bizarrely, the authors never point this out directly.  They are adaptation experts, so rather than focusing on the immense economic benefits of preventing catastrophic global warming in the first place, they offer up this secondary conclusion as their primary finding:

Parry and colleagues warn that this underestimate of the cost of adaptation threatens to weaken the outcome of UNFCCC negotiations, which are due to culminate in Copenhagen in December with a global deal aimed at tackling climate change.

“The amount of money on the table at Copenhagen is one of the key factors that will determine whether we achieve a climate change agreement,” says Professor Parry, visiting research fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. “But previous estimates of adaptation costs have substantially misjudged the scale of funds needed.”

Uhhh, not quite.  What threatens to weaken the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations is that the overwhelming majority of politicians, opinion makers, and journalists in this country (and around the world, I think) don’t get that 1) the cost of inaction is catastrophically high [and potentially beyond calculation] and 2) the cost of action is far, far lower [see also “Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar“].

Oh well.  If you’re interested in why the IPCC underestimated adaptation costs, the study focuses on several areas:

  • Water: The UNFCCC estimate of US$11 billion excluded costs of adapting to floods and assumes no costs for transferring water within nations from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. The underestimate could be substantial, according to the new report.
  • Health: The UNFCCC estimate of US$5 billion excluded developed nations, and assessed only malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition. This could cover only 30-50% of the global total disease burden, according to the new report.
  • Infrastructure: The UNFCCC estimate of US$8-130 billion assumed that low levels of investment in infrastructure will continue to characterise development in Africa and other relatively poor parts of the world. But the new report points out that such investment must increase in order to reduce poverty and thus avoid continuing high levels of vulnerability to climate change. It says the costs of adapting this upgraded infrastructure to climate change could be eight times more costly than the higher estimates predicted by the UNFCCC.
  • Coastal zones: The UNFCCC estimate of US$11 billion excluded increased storm intensity and used low IPCC predictions of sea level rise. Considering research on sea level rise published since the 2007 IPCC report, and including storms, the new report suggests costs could be about three times greater than predicted.
  • Ecosystems: The UNFCCC excluded from its estimates the costs of protecting ecosystems and the services they can provide for human society. The new report concludes that that this is an important source of under-estimation, which could cost over US$350 billion, including both protected and non-protected areas.

No surprise, really, given that the IPCC lowballs amplifying feedbacks and climate impacts, too.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the important stuff — the enormous benefit of stabilizing at 450 ppm — just jump to Chapter 8, page 103, here.

32 Responses to Flashback: Scientists Find $1240 TRILLION In Climate Impacts On Current CO2 Path, So We Must Mitigate To Under 450 PPM

  1. catman306 says:

    1240 Trillion would be

    $1.24 Quadrillion… with a Q!

    Has anyone ever seen the Q word in any reference to money?

    That’s some real money. Let’s save some of that expense. STOP burning fossil fuels.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    The American public has no idea about these costs, and it’s deliberate. The percentage who are as aware of the science and economics of global warming as your readers is in the single digits.

    How do we break this logjam of bad or nonexistent information? You must be frustrated too, Joe. The old European fascists controlled the press, and jailed those who attempted to call them on their atrocities. Today, the fossil fuel companies accomplish the same thing by managing media content via advertiser pressure.

    People who know the full horror of what’s going on are essentially egghead curios, allowed (for now) to blow off steam on blogs and letters to the editor.

    Any ideas? We don’t have decades for the truth to percolate.

  3. BobbyL says:

    I think in 2009 the prospects of stabilizing at 450 were dim but still perhaps faintly realistic. Now in 2013 the prospects of stabilizing at 450 are probably no longer realistic at all so the discussion about costs of adaptation vs mitigation for 450 stabilization may no longer be relevant. I think we need to reassess the situation when it comes to costs.

  4. jimijaflimflam says:

    The Public will be lied to until the truth is painfully obvious or the economic benefits of the lie are ending. At that point, there will be much hand-wringing and statements of disbelief that things went so far by the Powers That Be.

  5. john c. wilson says:

    Can anyone do arithmetic? Current global GNP is about 80 trillion. It doesn’t even matter what timeframe the 1240 trillion occurs over, what’s being discussed is total destruction of the global economy. This is the no one here gets out alive scenario. There will be no economy to cover these costs.

  6. Omega Centauri says:

    NO. I think its simply the mathematical power of deep future time here. Climate change will be costing humanity for hundreds of years, and hundreds of years times a few trillion per year could easily exceed a Q. The most important factor if the discount rate applied to the net present value computation, as to a crude approximation the number of years whose damage counts is the inverse of the discount rate.
    Of course as Bobby states above, 450 is unlikely to be met, we may be talking about the different between 500 and ?.

  7. Jack Burton says:

    Mitigate and stay under 450PPM. Did they check the CO2 spike of 2012? This goal is now a joke, isn’t going to happen. No effort worth the name has yet been made or even planned. Instead, all plans are for more fossil fuel extraction and use. America is now bragging about it’s new fracking oil and gas production. Canada is planning to build it’s economy around Tar sands mining. Need I go on.
    No, there is no attempt under way to stay under 450PPM. If we do reach 450PPM we have guaranteed a run away positive feedback explosion. Already the Arctic sea in in run away feedback. About 50 to a 100 year BEFORE models predicted this to happen. So then, what OTHER surprises are cooking just under the surface?
    I know of one, discovered last year by scientists from Russia. They found that formerly small methane plumes from the shallow arctic seas off of western Siberia had exploded from meters across to kilometers across in “1 YEAR”.
    Is that surprise enough for you?!?!?
    All the facts point to our only hope being a rapid plunge to zero in the next five-ten years if we are to have any hope at all of being able to live with the consequences. There are no actions afoot to even attempt to reduce increases, let alone being the decline to zero.
    Conclusion? You judge!

  8. Artful Dodger says:

    Joe, thank you for reminding us of this critical point.

    When you’re in the mood, may we please revisit the post on the economic ‘Ponzi Scheme’?

    Cheers, and be we11!

  9. onyerlefty says:

    It would cost roughly $1Q to install enough utility solar to power the entire U.S. (cover 35,000 sq miles in AZ with panels).

    Both represent intractable scenarios. Let’s limit global warming with tractable solutions.

  10. Raul M. says:

    For a while there was the information that the UN climate senerio was co2 equilivents based. There was mention of a 2011 total equivilent reading. But you know so that we stay calm we maybe shouldn’t have the knowledge of the more receint figures that would show overall increase in methane of the atmosphere. That gas companies would want to know how much gas escapes each year, then there is the gas that they couldn’t horizontal drill to reach that is reported to just bubble up. Seems they would want to get more serious than just telling the peanut gallery to shut up.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There is one source of economic cost that rarely seems to get mentioned and that is the cost of disasters on mental health. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear from our many recent disasters that this toll is huge and long lived. And it’s still early days with lots of volunteers helping out – try running a society on shell shocked, demoralized and depressed people, ME

  12. Calamity Jean says:

    Nobody wants to power the US exclusively with photovoltaic solar. That’s ridiculous. Wind is much cheaper than PV solar and efficiency is cheaper still.

    Preventing climate catastrophy will take a combination of silver BBs, not one silver bullet.

  13. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    What value on the continued existence of humanity? We are changing the atmosphere faster than the lead up to any extinction event.

  14. Solar Jim says:

    “The mean [annual] impacts in 2060 are about $1.5 trillion…. As usual, there is a long right tail, with a small probability of impacts as large as $20 trillion.”

    If many trillions of dollar equivalent of damages per year occur to ASSETS (rather than activity) then civilization will be wrecked over a very few years.

  15. Solar Jim says:

    Atmospheric carbonic acid gas is nearly 400 ppm. Total GHG,equivalent is closing in on 500 ppm. Temporary “pollution” aerosols apparently reduce today’s impact somewhat. However, beneficial impacts of toxic air pollution can end in the short term, radiative forcers are long term.

  16. Solar Jim says:

    “Climate change” is a euphemism for MAN-MADE EXTINCTION EVENT. “Carbon dioxide” is the same for CARBONIC ACID GAS.

    Welcome to the Carbonic Acid Gas Chamber. (We never listened to Ike.)

  17. FrankD says:

    Haha! I used the “Q-word” (with some supporting numbers) almost exactly a decade ago in a discussion with a group (who mostly seemed to get their climate news from WingNut Daily).

    You could just about hear their brains give a little “eep” as they tried to process it, failed, and slipped into the comfort of … well … denial.

    After that, I stopped trying to convince anyone who was in denial about the seriousness of our position, and confined myself to rebutting one lie at a time. I realised that, for many people, its not so much a case of not wanting to accept the big truth as being quite incapable of processing it when they hear it.

    It’s like fighting a bushfire – you can back-burn a little here, put out a spotfire there, but when the wall of hundred foot flames comes all you can do is hunker down and hope.

  18. DanB says:

    It’s essential to repeatedly state the meaning of two of the changes we’ve seen in the last few years: 1. Dramatic loss of ice in the Arctic, 2. Rapid increase in GHG’s in 2012.

    A. Loss of Arctic ice means loss of food, droughts, floods, famine, death, and political squabbles that presage war. Mother Nature doesn’t play pretty when prodded with sticks. Things die and we are high on the list for species headed for extinction.

    B. Rapid increase in GHG’s means we’re locked in to hundreds of years of heating.

    In addition we would do well to state repeatedly that investing in renewable energy projects would create millions of jobs and the supremely wealthy can afford to finance this with less than their lunch money.

    Their heirs (kids) would benefit from a secure climate.

  19. fj says:

    This Devil’s Excrement is sucking the life blood out of a civilization this planet refuses to no longer support.

  20. fj says:

    Death tolls larger than 9/11 are repeated on this world’s roads every single day.

  21. fj says:

    And the climate carnage will be many times larger if it is not stopped.

  22. fj says:

    The nightmare reality way beyond the four trillion dollar cost of the Iraq war is the cost in lives.

  23. rollin says:

    There is no way to equate all the lives lost and those that will be lost, with monetary means. There is no way money can rebuild a destroyed ecosystem or bring the dead back to life. Value of a living world = priceless.

  24. 1.24 quadrillion is 14.25 trillion per year between now and 2100. That’s almost equal to the entire current annual economic output of the United States.

    The problem is that, under the worst case, the 1.24 quadrillion figure is probably still conservative. What we risk losing by 2100 is the viability of many countries and civilizations, perhaps most countries and civilizations. So it could be argued that a world economy could no longer function by 2100 under the very worst emissions, feedbacks, and environmental consequences scenarios.

    The long list of impacts should include the loss of arable land due to climate change, the loss of stable coastlines, the catastrophic flooding of many major cities (continuous and worsening), the loss of all or most coral reef systems, the severe damage to ocean sea food supply, the impacts to infrastructures from major, ongoing and intensifying storm events, the impacts to infrastructure from potential large ice damn breakage in the major glacier systems of the world, and the substantial possibility that growing regions of the world become uninhabitable.

    In such a situation, which is certainly possible under the worst case emissions and climate sensitivity scenarios, you’re looking at much more than 1.24 Quadrillion. So if the potential loss is from 800 trillion to pretty much everything, then the cost of transitioning seems moderate and doable by comparison. And even if the risk of the above worst case were only 20% under BAU (I believe it’s a bit higher), it would be a risk far too great.

  25. ME–

    I think people are already a little shell-shocked. I think that’s where denial comes from. But, yes, it just gets worse the longer we wait. As many wise people have already urged — we should respond and prevent now while our economies and civilizations are relatively strong. We still argue about cost, but we are certainly capable of responding. It’s quite possible we won’t be come 30,60,90 years. All the more reason we should do all within our capacity now (while we still retain it).

    Best hopes…

  26. john c. wilson says:

    So we’re talking about impacts over 800 years? Which is what arithmetic says at $1.5T/year.

    Class dismissed. It’s magic, mirrors, eleven dimensional chess, numbers are anything that makes you happy.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘..sooner or later you start talking about real money’. It’s just about the notional value of all outstanding derivatives. In fact, of course, outside the moral universe of those who ‘..know the price of everything but the value of nothing’, the cost of unaddressed climate destabilisation is infinite, because it will destroy all human achievement, however ‘valued’.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    At that point the detested Greens will be blamed, perhaps, as I have already seen, for ‘not selling the argument’. A ‘Green terrorist atrocity’ or two will lubricate the engine of state repression, and Greens will join the other ‘terrorists’ on the drone target list, and a diversionary war, probably with China, will take the rabble’s minds off their predicament, for a little longer.

  29. Susan Anderson says:

    Great points. Thanks for the info – will be trying to work it into some arguments. Worth it for the wow factor alone.

    I’m not saying I think It’s wrong, mindjew, just that it is startling. Make people think …

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s still ‘soft denialism’. At current settings, by 2060 human civilization will be history, and, if oceanic acidification proceeds apace, so will the species be.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And the detritus of the denialist rabble. mutated by rage and hatred into something quite horrible, but familiar to the survivors of Rightwing terror in El Salvador, Guatemala or Iraq etc.

  32. Frunobulax718 says:

    “Has anyone ever seen the Q word in any reference to money?”

    I have; twice.

    A long time ago — perhaps 40 years ago — I saw a price tag on the total cost of WW2 that was placed at around $1Q. [Who knows what that would be in terms of 2013 dollars.]

    More recently, during the financial collapse in the fall of 2008, I saw a figure of $1.1Q attached to the value of global economic mechanisms ‘infected’ by the toxic assets of the CDS derivatives engineered by Wall Street quants. [The derivatives themselves were ‘valued’ at somewhere around $30T -$50T prior to the crash; all of it now essentially equal to $0 (IIRC). That hasn’t stopped the big firms from manufacturing more of them, and the Dodd-Frank rules severely limiting their use were watered down by Congress. Nor has it stopped the Fed from loaning $85B to these biggest banks (at near 0% interest rates) each month when they are clearly in hock up to their eyeballs. But I digress…]

    To my point: the excellent article in Rolling Stone magazine a few months back about ‘the terrifying new math of climate change’ attaches a similar number (between $30T – $50T) to the in-the-ground carbon assets of the coal and petroleum industries. Assuming all of that is sliced, diced, reassembled and then attached to a variety of mechanisms in a manner similar to the CDS derivatives, then it is not inconceivable that — once these assets are reduced to a value of $0 by *absolutely necessary* climate change legislation — we can expect a similar financial swan dive to what we saw in 2008 unless we plan ahead for such a disturbance.

    Given the precedent by the Department of Justice to overlook druglord and terrorist related money-laundering (by HSBC), taxpayer-backed Ponzi Schemes (JP Morgan/Chase) — and a whole host of blatantly illegal activities by a wide assortment of other too-big-to-jail banks and financial institutions — on the basis that bringing these criminals to justice would harm the economy, I don’t think allowing the coal and petroleum industry to collapse is even remotely near the top of the Congressional to-do list.

    My point to all the above is not to provide reasons for aborting the clean energy transition — we *must* begin to implement that in a major fashion ASAP — but rather to point out that the *cost* of doing it has to take into account the ancillary costs of deconstructing the carbon-based energy paradigm that our global economy currently has as its foundation (and has for a little over a century now). And the value of these in-the-ground assets is just a tiny piece of that pie.

    Thus, IMHO this is not going to be cheap, and anyone who thinks it will is deluding themselves.