New Report Reveals The Severe Economic Impacts Climate Change Will Have In The South

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla.

Climate change is set to hit the Southeast United States and Texas hard.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Risky Business Project, a nonprofit that focuses on the economic impacts of climate change. The report, which focused on 12 states — 11 states in the Southeastern United States plus Texas — found that the increased heat and humidity that these states are expected to experience as the climate changes will put the region’s recent manufacturing boom at risk.

“While the Southeast and Texas are generally accustomed to heat and humidity, the scale of increased heat — along with other impacts such as sea level rise and storm surge — will likely cause significant and widespread economic harm, especially to a region so heavily invested in physical manufacturing, agriculture and energy infrastructure,” the report reads. “If we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, the southeastern United States and Texas will likely experience significant drops in agricultural yield and labor productivity, along with increased sea level rise, higher energy demand, and rising mortality rates.”

According to the report, by the end of this century, the Southeast and Texas could see 14 times as many days over 95°F each year. Some regions, the report states, could see as many as 124 of these extremely hot days a year. And changes could come sooner than the end of the century for some states: by around 2050, Mississippi is expected to see 33 to 85 extremely hot days each year. These temperatures will drive up electricity demand, and that increased demand could see an increase in energy costs of 4 to 12 percent by mid-century.

TX average summer temp

CREDIT: the Risky Business Project

Rising temperatures will also likely put the Southeast’s agriculture industry in danger. Without “significant adaptation from farmers,” corn yields are likely to decline by as much as 21 percent and soybean yields by as much as 14 percent over the next five to 25 years. By the end of the century, corn yields could decline by as much as 86 percent and soybeans by as much as 76 percent.

States could also see a rise in heat-related deaths. Florida could see as many as 1,840 more deaths a year and Texas could see as many as 2,580 deaths per year due to heat over the next five to 25 years. And by around 2050, these two states could see as many as 10,000 more deaths a year, all due to extreme heat. This increase in deaths due to climate change has been predicted by other studies as well: one study last year found that the number of heat-related deaths in the United Kingdom would rise by 257 percent by 2050.

Sea level rise puts coastal states in the Southeast at risk of major property loss — the report predicts that, without action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, between $48.2 billion and $68.7 billion in coastal property in the region will be below sea level by mid-century. South Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and the economic losses that come along with it, the report warns. State officials in Florida, however, have been slow to act on both climate mitigation and adaptation.

“Florida faces more risk than any other state that private, insurable property could be inundated by high tide, storm surge and sea level rise,” the report reads. “By 2030, up to $69 billion in coastal property will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide that is not at risk today. By 2050, the value of property below local high tide levels will increase to up to about $152 billion.”

florida slr risks

CREDIT: the Risky Business Project

The report’s warnings on the economic impacts of climate change echo those of other studies. A study last year found that agricultural production will experience losses as early as the 2030s, even if the world limits warming to 2°C. Other studies have also warned of hits to productivity as temperatures rise, and of spiking energy costs in many parts of the United States. Extreme weather also brings with it a hefty price tag: the worst extreme weather events in the United States in 2014 caused $19 billion in damage, according to a Center for American Progress analysis.

But, the report says, the Southeast and Texas can make changes now that could help mitigate some of these losses. The manufacturing and agricultural sectors must find ways to adapt to rising temperatures — though these adaptations, such as shifting to different crops for farmers and moving operations to cooler regions for businesses, could be economically challenging. The report also recommends that the Southeast as a whole start investing more heavily in renewable energy, efficiency, and cleaner vehicles. Already, states in the region have taken some of these steps: earlier this month, for instance, the first major wind project in the South broke ground in North Carolina. But still, recent decisions in some southern states show that leadership has a ways to go in adapting to and mitigating climate change: Georgia, for instance, got rid of its electric vehicle tax credit in April, and Kentucky and South Carolina were among the states that challenged the Obama administration’s proposed rule on power plant emissions in court last year.