Acting on climate change will have major economic, environmental, and health benefits, according to a report released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The report analyzes two future climate change scenarios — one in which “significant global action” on climate change has limited warming to 2°C (3.6°F), and one in which no action on climate change has forced global temperatures to rise 9°F. The report documents the multiple benefits that the U.S would feel if major action is taken on climate change.
These benefits include a reduction of the frequency of extreme weather events and a lowered risk of extreme temperatures. According to the report, if the world limits warming to 2°C, 49 U.S. cities could avoid 12,000 deaths associated with extreme temperatures every year by 2100. Compared to a scenario with no action on climate change, that’s a 90 percent reduction in annual deaths. The report notes that, if the world doesn’t tackle greenhouse gas emissions, America’s number of extremely hot days is expected to more than triple between 2050 and 2100. And, it adds, the reduction in deaths from extreme cold that is expected to occur will be “more than offset” by the projected increase in heat-related deaths.
“Climate change is not a belief system — it is a fact. This is science,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told CNN Monday. “So EPA is putting the science on the table. We’re providing all the information, and we’re showing that, in fact, if you actually take action today, you will save significant lives.”
Those aren’t the only deaths expected to be avoided through action on climate change. The report also found that 13,000 air quality-related deaths would be avoided in 2050 and 57,000 such deaths would be avoided in 2100 if the world limits warming to 2°C.
In addition, the EPA looked at costs associated with combating climate change, particularly in terms of infrastructure damage. It found that with no action on climate change, annual road immanence costs would increase by $10 billion by the end of the century — whereas with action on climate change, up to $7 billion of those costs could be avoided. The report also looked at the impact climate change will have on bridges. It found that the costs of adapting bridges to climate change if no climate action is taken would total about $170 billion from 2010 to 2050, and $24 billion from 2051 to 2100.
“It’s pretty startling information,” McCarthy told CNN. “People should pay attention to it, but it’s hopeful as well. Because if we take action now globally, we can make a significant difference in the quality of the life of our children and we can make it a safer, healthier place for them.”
Paul Gunnig, director of the Climate Change Division in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said on a press call Monday that the report didn’t look at specific global or U.S. policies that would limit warming to 2°C — instead, it just looked at scenarios under which warming would either be limited or allowed to continue. He also said the report only focused on the U.S. and didn’t take climate change in Alaska or other countries into account, which means that “the real benefits to the U.S. and the globe are expected to be much higher” than the report projects.
Along with the report, EPA also published a video introducing the benefits of acting on climate change.
Many of the EPA’s findings have been confirmed by other studies. In a 2013 report, the Center for American Progress laid out the economic cost of natural disasters in the U.S., finding that, between 2011 and 2012, 25 “billion-dollar damage” weather events in the United States caused up to $188 billion in total damage. Extreme heat has already been blamed for thousands of deaths in India this summer, and last year, the World Health Organization linked 7 million annual premature deaths to air pollution.