New Study Calls for Broad Climate Fight, Not Just Gas Emission Cuts

May 8, 2008

An assault on climate change on many fronts makes good economic sense but will be money badly spent if the world focuses exclusively on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, a new study said on Thursday.

A 100-year package costing $800 billion to help people adapt to the impacts of warming — such as droughts or rising seas — while also funding research into new technology and curbing emissions could yield benefits of $2.1 trillion, it said.

“We’ve got something that makes sense as an investment of public money,” said Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut who was lead author of the 56-page study with colleagues in Ireland and the United States.

The same imaginary $800 billion invested solely in curbing or mitigating emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, would lose money overall with returns of just $685 billion. Until now, emissions curbs have been the overriding focus.

“Mitigation is not enough,” Yohe told Reuters of the study, prepared for a May 26-28 conference in Copenhagen run by Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

The $800 billion total works out at roughly 0.05 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) a year and adds to evidence from studies by the UN Climate Panel and British climate change expert Nicholas Stern in 2007 that costs are affordable.

The Copenhagen conference, including five Nobel Prize laureates, will seek to rank the costs and benefits of challenges such as fighting AIDS, malnutrition or terrorism, promoting free trade or slowing climate change.

“We have a conversation that’s not very nuanced when we talk about global warming,” Lomborg said. “It mainly focuses on mitigation and that’s one of the least effective investments.”

Lomborg told Reuters that returns from investing in slowing warming were less, for instance, than spending on health.

Yohe, however, said that fighting climate change would have wider spinoffs. “If you don’t attend to climate change you will be swimming upstream, climate change will be … making hunger and disease more prevalent,” he said.

The UN Climate Panel, of which Yohe is a member, concluded last year that the most aggressive curbs on global warming would cost up to 0.1 percent of world GDP a year to 2030 but made no recommendations about how cash should be spent. He said Thursday’s study tries to fill that gap.

About 190 nations have agreed to negotiate by the end of 2009 a successor treaty to the UN’s Kyoto Protocol, which binds 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Most industrialized nations are considering deeper cuts while also seeking ways to help vulnerable nations adapt to problems such as floods, heat waves or rising seas that could wash away some low-lying Pacific islands.

Even Thursday’s plan would only cut projected temperature rises by 2100 to about 3.0 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) from 3.5 Celsius — far above the 2.0 Celsius that the European Union and many environmentalists consider “dangerous” warming.

“One of the many inconvenient truths is that most of global warming is going to happen unless we dramatically change right now,” said Lomborg, who argues that the world has to make tough choices about what is affordable.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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