Beth Ward

For every year we wait to address climate change, the costs go up. While this isn’t necessarily a new concept, a series of recently released reports have zeroed in on the economic implications of climate change in an effort to drive action.

The most recent report was released on Tuesday by the White House. The report, The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change, from the Council of Economic Advisors found that if the temperature increases 3 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels (2 degrees Celsius has often been discussed as a “safe” level of warming) the damage could cost more than $150 billion. Failing to take steps to mitigate climate change, also increases costs over the long term. The report estimates that mitigation costs increase by 40% for each decade of delay.

The Council says in the report that the “costs of inaction underscore the importance of taking meaningful steps today towards reducing carbon emissions” and points to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants as an example. The report was released the same day a series of public meetings on the proposed rules started across the country.

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told The New York Times that the report was meant to explain “why the administration is doing so many things on so many levels to deal with climate change.” Much of the administration’s recent action on climate change was outlined in the President’s Climate Action Plan released in June 2013.

In an editorial published Sunday, Robert E. Rubin, co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999, said action on climate change is often “framed as a trade-off between environmental protection and economic prosperity.”

“But from an economic perspective, that’s precisely the wrong way to look at it. The real question should be: What is the cost of inaction? In my view—and in the view of a growing group of business people, economists, and other financial and market experts—the cost of inaction over the long term is far greater than the cost of action,” Rubin said in the editorial.

Rubin contributed to a report Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States published in June by the Risky Business Project that was launched last fall. Some of the economic climate change risks cited in the report include large-scale losses in coastal property and infrastructure; extreme heat threatening labor productivity, human health, and energy systems; and shifting agricultural patterns and crop yields.

“This is not a problem for another day. The investments we make today—this week, this month, this year—will determine our economic future,” the report says.

At Nexight Group, we’ve written before about how communicating about climate change can drive action. Focusing on the economics of climate change and its impacts could be one way to change the conversation and ultimately drive action. As Rubin said in his editorial, “By forcing policymakers to recognize likely future expenditures—and the trade-offs required to make them—we may increase the political appetite for policy changes now.”



Keywords: Climate Change