The economic costs of climate adaptation escalate with inaction, says bipartisan energy group

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“Pay now, or pay more later” is the increasingly substantiated wisdom of addressing—and failing to address—the threat of global climate disruption.  The bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) pulled together the findings of seven climate change impacts studies conducted around the country, and recently issued what amounts to yet another fair warning.  Climate change impacts are wide-ranging and affect key resources Americans care about; the greater the warming, the greater the economic costs will be to society; but—we can avoid the worst impacts by ratcheting down heat-trapping pollution and planning for unavoidable impacts.  Planning, preparing for, and building resilience against climate impacts is not getting the public policy attention it deserves.  Today we cross-post from Nick Sundt at the World Wildlife Fund’s climate blog.

Reposted from one of today’s entries on the WWF Climate Blog:

Study on Climate Change and the Economy: “The cost of inaction will be much higher than the cost of action.” [LINK]

Submitted by Nick Sundt on Tue, 11/17/2009 – 12:06

A report recently released by the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) summarizes the findings of a series of climate change impacts studies conducted around the country. “The findings of these analyses illustrate and underscore the enormous risks posed by unmitigated climate change, and the increasing urgency of policy actions to reduce these risks,” the report says.

On 27 October 2009, NCEP released the report Climate Change and the Economy: Expected Impacts and Their Implications [PDF].  NCEP is a bipartisan group of 20 of the nation’s leading energy experts, and is one of several projects of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“As our nation strives to develop effective policies to respond to climate change, it is essential to consider the economic costs of both action and inaction,” the report says. “Much of the current conversation in the policy arena revolves around the potential economic costs of actions to reduce heat-trapping emissions.  Relatively little attention is being paid to the much larger economic costs of unmitigated climate change.”

The report’s overarching conclusions are:

•    “Climate change will have wide-ranging impacts on key resources that affect Americans.

•    The economic costs of these impacts will be significant; and the greater the warming, the larger the costs.

•    The worst impacts can be avoided through proactive actions including reducing heat trapping emissions and planning for those changes that are unavoidable.”

The report summarizes the findings of 7 state and regional case studies.  “The findings of these analyses illustrate and underscore the enormous risks posed by unmitigated climate change, and the increasing urgency of policy actions to reduce these risks,” the authors conclude. The studies are:

1)  Impacts of Global Warming on New Mexico’s Water Resources: An Assessment of the Rio Grande Basin: “New Mexico’s economy is threatened by water scarcity as snowpack and stream flows shrink and more water is lost to evaporation as temperatures rise. There will be greater competition for water supplies to serve agriculture, energy, and urban uses for a growing population.”

2)  Costs of Global Warming for Alaska’s Public Infrastructure: “Alaska faces rising costs to maintain its public infrastructure as thawing ground undermines foundations of buildings and roads, retreating sea ice leaves coastlines exposed to erosion, and increasing heavy downpours raise the risk of flooding.”

3)  Climate Change in Coastal Florida: Economic Impacts of Sea Level Rise: “Florida’s coastline can expect a dramatic increase in major storm surge events and associated property damage as sea level rises.  And the amount of property at risk to permanent inundation is projected to increase in direct correlation with rising sea levels.”

4)  Impacts of Global Warming on North Carolina’s Coastal Economy: “North Carolina’s coastal economy will suffer billions of dollars in losses as a result of declining property values, business interruptions, commercial fishing losses, damage to forests, and lost recreational benefits as sea level rises and hurricane intensity increases.”

5)  Impacts of Global Warming on Hurricane related Flooding in Corpus Christi, Texas: “The Texas Gulf Coast faces increased risk of coastal flooding as sea level rises and hurricane intensity increases. Results include property damage, displacement of families and businesses, and economic impacts (such as from damage to oil refineries) that could be national in scope.”

6)  Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Tennessee’s Forests: “Tennessee’s forests and the economic activity they support are projected to suffer with rising temperatures. Economically valuable oaks will be displaced by less valuable tree species. Trout fishing and other recreational pursuits will be negatively affected as temperatures rise.”

7)  Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northern Rocky Mountains (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho): “In the forests of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, warming is projected to produce longer periods of drought stress each summer. Drought stressed trees, increasing insect infestations, and more frequent and severe wildfires threaten people, homes, and ecosystems in the northern Rocky Mountains.”

“The good news is that it is not too late to prevent the worst of these impacts,” the NCEP report concludes.  It adds:

”[C]hoices made now will determine the severity of the impacts we will face in the decades and centuries to come. The need to change the trajectory of heat trapping heat trapping gas emissions is urgent if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The cost of inaction will be much higher than the cost of action.”

 

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