Sticking To Paris Agreement Could Save The World $20 Trillion

The transition between an ice melange and an open fjord in East Greenland, taken during a recent flyover as part of Operation IceBridge. NASA/Joe MacGregor

Robin Andrews 23 May 2018, 18:00

You probably don’t need reminding that the Paris agreement is the world’s best hope, at present, for derailing the unrelenting march of anthropogenic climate change. A new Nature paper on the subject reminds us that preventing future meteorological and environmental turmoil isn’t the only benefit it’ll bring us – potentially $20 trillion in savings by 2100 could be ours too.

Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford University and an expert in the socioeconomic impacts of environmental change, is the study's lead author. In line with many others, he tells IFLScience that it’s “very unlikely” that without far more aggressive decarbonization steps, the 2°C (3.6°F) upper warming limit will be met.

“Most studies suggest that we're going to have to have net negative emissions by about mid-century, which means we definitely need technologies that can pull carbon out of the air,” he stresses. This means that sticking to the lower 1.5°C (2.7°F) “requires a lot of technology that we don't yet have.”

Indeed, our ability to geoengineer the climate, through blocking sunlight or (preferably) trapping skyward greenhouse gases underground, remain concepts at best. A combination with more stringent carbon-cutting plans by signatories to the Paris agreement, however, bring with them something everyone – even the most politically conservative types – can understand: money.

The percentage gain in GDP per capita in 2100 if we stick to the 1.5C limit. We don't avoid all damages, but things look a lot better in this optimistic future. Marshall Burke

The economic benefits of climate change action are surprisingly clear, even if the numbers remain somewhat broad estimates. Project Drawdown, a recent analysis of each practical solution to climate change, finds that even moderate expansions in solar farms and nuclear power bring substantial economic benefits.

The reasons vary, but increasingly cheap running costs and less socioeconomic and environmental damages results in monetary savings. Burke et al.’s new paper attempts to calculate the country and global economic impacts of sticking to the goals of the Paris agreement, and the final figures are certainly eye-catching.

Using economic projections, historical records, damage data related to climate change-linked phenomena, and future climate change projections, the team find that the world has a 60 percent chance of saving over $20 trillion if it sticks to the lower warming limit. At the same time, 90 percent of the planet’s population have a 75 percent chance of experiencing significantly reduced economic damages.

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