Climate change is actually really expensive, so let’s not do it

Written by Rebecca Jones on 16th Apr 2019

Global warming is the biggest existential threat the human race has ever faced. It is also isn’t cheap. According to a recent report from Christian Aid, the four biggest climate related disasters of 2018 cost a combined $32 billion in lost infrastructure, housing and rescue and recovery operations.

That’s a lot of money. Enough to buy every Briton nearly TWO averagely priced houses – or gift us all the equivalent of the weekly wage of a premiership footballer, whichever measure you prefer.

The most expensive event was Hurricane Florence, which ripped through the Carolinas last summer, wreaking $17 billion worth of destruction across the US region. This was closely followed by Hurricane Michael, which levied $15 billion of devastation to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Cutting the climate deniers short, the report’s authors claim that human related warming activity had a direct impact on these weather events, causing the storm rains during Florence to be 50 per cent more powerful while warmer waters added fuel and speed to Michael.

Closer to home, the report also claims that the record breaking heatwaves seen across Europe last summer were also made 50 per cent more likely due to human related warming, as was the estimated $7 billion of flood damage done to Japan.

Money ministers unite

These figures and more are finally beginning to attract the attention of the world’s financial institutions who, perhaps less moved by the loss of life in economically unimportant regions, are now starting to get quite concerned about climate change.

So much so, in-fact, that that at the Washington meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank over the weekend, finance ministers from 23 countries signed up to a set of principles pledging to work climate considerations into their climate policies.

Dubbed the Helsinki Principles, the agreement calls on finance ministers to align their policies with the 2015 Paris Agreement commitments; work towards measures that result in effective carbon pricing as well as mobilize private money for climate finance from banks and institutions.

The UK is, happily, one of the 23 countries to sign up, with chancellor Philip Hammond clocking up those airmiles to state at the conference: “Britain is at a turning point and our future is bright. We must work together with our partners across the world to create a safer, more prosperous and more sustainable economy for future generations.”

In this endeavor Britain is joined by Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Kenya, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Uganda and Uruguay.

Keen readers will have no doubt spotted a couple of glaring omissions. No China. No US. And while this isn’t a surprise, it also kind of is. Because, while the two leaders flex their coal-loving muscles at each other in a tit for tat trade war, their countries are sinking into the physical and metaphorical sea.

Climate’s too tight to mention

Referring back to most expensive climate events of last year, the US is one of the most vulnerable regions when it comes to climate change. A sea level rise of 1m will see the large majority of the eastern seaboard wiped out – including Florida, Washington and New York. And we’re on track for that by 2100, if not well before.

As the world’s most developed country, this destruction will also be the most expensive. According to a US government report, climate change has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $350 billion over the past decade, and by 2050 this will rise to a staggering $35 billion per year. Post storm clean up and disaster assistance, which are set to increase under rising temperatures, are the main cost.

In China, air pollution is nothing short of a national crisis. Of the world’s 100 most polluted cities, more than 60 are in China, which is related largely to coal burning. No-one yet knows the cost of this to the economy, but it’s slowing – so much so the government has just embarked on a big money printing spree to get it going again.

China is, arguably doing a lot to change this, investing more than any other country in the world in renewable energy and leading the charge in areas like automation and electric vehicles (excuse the pun). Thanks to it’s current trade war with Trump, though, it can’t afford to give any ideological ground.

However, as the IPCC recently pointed out, we have precious little time for this nonsense. Less than 12 years, in-fact. And, arguably, this means that signing pledges and principles is perhaps beyond the point.

Shallow pockets

Of all the hot air coming from various meetings since the historic Paris Agreement of 2015, the whole of the EU managed to scrape together a paltry $129 million for the UN”s Climate Adaptation Fund at the last climate meeting in Poland. Meanwhile less than $2 billion could be found for the Green Climate fund, which has so far received only $7 billion of the $10 billion pledged to it by global leaders in 2014.

Prevention, as we all know, is better than cure. However when it comes to global fiscal policy it seems leaders would rather keep paying billions in crisis funds every year – not to mention the human cost – rather than take politically sensitive decisions now to save money, homes and lives.

At some point soon, though, the money is going to start to talk for itself. As David Attenborough (now a regular fixture at economic forums as well as inside submersibles) – told the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde on Saturday: “It is difficult to exaggerate the peril we are in.” And peril – as we saw last year – is very expensive.


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