$540 trillion: The global cost of climate change

It costs 50 times more to prevent climate change than to adapt to it - Source: Topher Field

SALEM, Ore., February 17, 2014 — A fight being waged in Australia today over global warming is a harbinger of things to come around the world.

London’s Financial Times says that Australia’s government plans to repeal its expensive carbon tax in July. The government says that the tax costs $7 billion a year in economic pain with little environmental gain.

A new report by Australia’s Department of Environment credits a tiny 0.3 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions last year to the carbon taxes that became law in 2012.

Australia is at the forefront of the climate change debate. Theirs isn’t over whether or not climate change is real. It is real. The debate is over how much it will cost to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent global warming.

Which is cheaper — prevention, or mitigation?

Australia is important in the climate change debate for several reasons:

  • Australia’s 30 percent increase in emissions since 1990 is the highest greenhouse emissions jump of any industrialized nation.
  • In 2012, the previous government imposed the most ambitious carbon tax in the world.
  • In 2013, the previous government was thrown out of office when the main election issue was repealing the expensive 2012 carbon tax.

In the heat of the 2013 elections, Australian Topher Field did a remarkable thing. He became the first person in the world to calculate the global cost of climate change.

Field uses universally accepted data sources. He assumes the IPCC’s conclusions are all correct. He scales up Australia’s carbon tax solution to apply it to the whole planet. Australia models its carbon tax plan on the United Nation’s proposed solution.

Topher Field calls his analysis the “50 to 1 Project” because he concludes in it that it costs 50 times more to prevent global warming than to adapt to its effects.

Field summarizes his findings in this highly entertaining, easy to understand and quite astounding 9-minute video:

Most astonishing is that Field’s calculations show that it would cost $540 trillion dollars to prevent a mere +0.17°C temperature rise by 2020. That is a mind-boggling 80 percent of global GDP.

Field points out that, according the 2006 Stern report on climate change economics, a +3°C global temperature rise would cost 0 to 3 percent of GDP in climate damage.  Field assumes the Stern GDP mid-point increase, 1.5 percent, and concludes that it costs more than 50 times more to stop global warming than to adapt to it.

Field’s video didn’t turn the tide of the 2013 Australian election. Higher electric bills and a weak economy changed former voter support for the law to opposition.

Australia’s new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says abolishing the carbon tax will save each household $550 a year.

According to the Financial Times, the law will officially be repealed in a few months, marking the end to the world’s most ambitious carbon tax.

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