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Heat Waves Driven By Climate Change Have Cost The World $16 Trillion Since The 90s – Forbes

Topline

Heat waves propelled by climate change have cost the global economy at least $16 trillion since the early 1990s, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, a burden that has disproportionately fallen on the world’s poorest and least polluting nations and will fuel international debate over who should be paying for the consequences of global warming.

Key Facts

Extreme heat caused by human-driven climate change has likely cut more than $16 trillion from the global economy between 1992 and 2013 and potentially as much as $65 trillion, according to the peer reviewed research, which analyses global temperature and economic data.

The researchers found that the costs of extreme heat—which has an impact on human health, productivity and agricultural output—have not been borne evenly around the world, with the poorest countries suffering the most.

Economic losses from extreme heat averaged at 1.5% of GDP per capita for the world’s wealthiest nations, typically the biggest contributors to climate change, the researchers found.

Meanwhile, the world’s poorest nations suffered far greater losses of 6.7% of GDP per capita, the research showed, and most of them have contributed the least to climate change and are less resilient to its effects.

Christopher Callahan, the study’s first author and a doctoral candidate in geography at Dartmouth College, said the study underscores the need for countries to consider the cost of adaptations to climate change in a more nuanced way, accounting for the cost of inaction as well as the measure itself.

There is a “substantial price tag” attached to doing nothing, Callahan said.

What We Don’t Know

The quality of economic and environmental data around the world is highly variable and that covering the world’s poorest and hottest regions is often the worst. The researchers note that this makes it hard to generate precise estimates on the economic costs associated with climate change, particularly for the regions least represented by existing data, and there are wide margins in their estimates ($16 trillion is the average of these analyses). Despite data limitations, the researchers said they were able to comfortably account for any uncertainty in their analysis. Additionally, they stressed it would be irresponsible to use data gaps as an excuse to justify inaction in parts of the world most vulnerable to climate change.

Surprising Fact

In “rare cases”, some countries could actually benefit from the extreme heat caused by global warming, said Justin Mankin, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth. While Mankin said “almost no country on Earth has benefitted from the extreme heat that has occurred,” the study shows that some regions of Europe and North America could theoretically benefit from having warmer spells. These regions are among the wealthiest in the world and some of the biggest carbon contributors to climate change.

Key Background

Historically, demonstrating the effects, damages and even existence of human-driven climate has been tough because of the very long time scales and gradual changes involved. Though deniers remain, the world’s leading scientists overwhelmingly and conclusively point to human activity as the cause of unprecedented warming. The climactic changes are driving up the frequency of phenomena like storms, heat waves, cold snaps, flooding and wildfires and increasing their severity. Without immediate and drastic change to reduce carbon emissions, this change is expected to get much worse as the world continues to heat.

What To Watch For

The researchers say their study is one of the first to quantify the economic costs of extreme heat driven by climate change. The researchers did not analyze data beyond 2013, and their estimate would likely grow significantly if expanded to the present day, where extreme heat events have increased in both frequency and severity. This year in particular broke numerous records for temperature, including in the U.K. and parts of China and Europe. As it highlights the disparities between wealthy countries contributing the most to climate change and the poorest countries bearing the brunt of its effects, the research will fuel growing debate among nations over who should pay the lion’s share of the costs to prevent or repair damage.

Further Reading

Costs of climate change far greater than green transition, says ECB (FT)

Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board (NYT)

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