White House: Waiting to Act on Global Warming Means Much Higher Costs
Delaying cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to stem global warming would cost significantly more than taking such actions now, according to a new report released Monday by the White House Council on Economic Advisors (CEA).
According to the report, the cost of hitting a specific climate target increases, on average, by approximately 40% in today’s dollars for each decade that the U.S. and the world at large delays such actions. This jump in price is due in part to the fact that delaying emissions cuts means that steeper reductions will be required at a later date to reach a given temperature target, compared to taking such steps now.
In addition, the CEA report found that emissions cuts made after the world warms by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit would cost the U.S. economy at least $150 billion more per year in “economic damages” from climate change. Such extra costs would instead be money saved if emissions cuts were to take place now and prevent the climate from warming so much in the first place, the report says.
In a conference call with reporters on Monday, White House Counselor John Podesta and Jason Furman, who chairs the CEA, said the report shows that cutting emissions now would cost less than waiting, saying those who argue that there are too many scientific uncertainties to take costly steps now are wrong.
The report makes clear, Furman says, that we know “way more than enough to justify acting today.”
The new report adds to the growing chorus of economically-focused appeals for acting to limit the severity of climate change. In June, a bipartisan group of business and government leaders released a report that found that global warming-related sea level rise could put between $66 to $106 billion of existing coastal property in the U.S. below sea level by 2050, if greenhouse gas emissions were to continue unabated. This would grow to up to $507 billion by 2100, the report said.
On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing on the costs of failing to act on climate change, at which the new report is likely to be discussed. In addition, this week the EPA is launching a series of public hearings on its landmark “Clean Power Plan” that would cut carbon emissions from power plants to 30% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Critics of the EPA’s regulations, including the electric utility industry, say they would cost too much and lead to lost jobs in states that rely heavily on coal-fired power plants.
The White House report is meant in part to provide a counterargument to this view, which is popular on Capitol Hill.
“Not taking action has far greater costs in the future,” Podesta said.
The report looked at 16 different studies that employed a range of climate models and scenarios, with a total of 106 different observations of climate change-related costs.
The study’s methods, Furman said, are unlikely to lead to cost overestimates. “[The] Technique we used, if anything would lead us to understate the costs of delay,” he said.
The report emphasizes the inertia of the climate system that is one of the reasons why this problem is proving to be so difficult for the global community to tackle. Because each molecule of carbon dioxide emitted today can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, if not longer, today’s policy choices will have repercussions for centuries to come.
This means that delays in reducing emissions can commit the world to more long-term warming, which would cause more damaging consequences, such as sea level rise, intense wildfires and species loss, the report says.
In addition, Furman noted the possibility of “abrupt large-scale catastrophic changes in our climate,” such as the sudden melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would doom many coastal cities due to rapid sea level rise. Such risks argue for taking out an “insurance policy,” he said.
The report acknowledges that the U.S. cannot tackle global warming alone, given the globally distributed nature of greenhouse gas emissions and the surge in such emissions from the developing world. However, White House officials argued that through leading by example, the U.S. can increase its leverage in international climate talks aimed at securing a global emissions reduction framework.
To that end, President Obama plans to attend a high-level U.N. summit on climate change in New York on September 23, which will be held one year in advance of a potentially decisive round of climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.