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New Studies Show Trillion Dollar Cost of Climate Change

Composite of eight images shot in sequence as a tornado formed in Kansas in 2016
Composite of eight images shot in sequence as a tornado formed in Kansas in 2016. (Photo: Jason Weingart)

According to the study, Brazil lost 25% of per capita GDP, Nigeria lost 29%, and India lost 31% because of climate change.

The first of two new climate studies finds that climate change intensifies the global wealth gap, while the second shows melting permafrost in the Arctic will cost $70 trillion in damage to the global economy, most of which will be inflicted on poor countries in the global south.

The first study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, used more than a dozen climate models to measure how each nation’s economy would have developed without human-caused climate change.

Study Says Cost of Climate Change Hits Warm Countries Harder

“We have very high confidence that a large subset of countries in the low latitudes where it is warm have been negatively impacted by historical global warming, so they have lower per capita GDP today than they would have had global warming not occurred,” Noah Diffenbaugh, one of the two Stanford professors who worked on the study, told Axios.

The other professor, Marshall Burke, had previously found that economic output suffers when temperatures grow too hot since agricultural and labor productivity decline.

According to the study, Brazil lost 25% of per capita GDP, Nigeria lost 29%, and India lost 31%, compared to a scenario where human-caused warming hadn’t impacted the climate. Interestingly, computer models showed some countries, such as Canada and Norway, actually benefited from warming temperatures.

Solomon Hsiang, a climate expert who has previously worked with Diffenbaugh and Burke, criticized aspects of the new paper. Hsiang agreed with the study’s conclusion on the negative impact of climate change on tropical economies but disputed the idea that wealthy northern countries may be benefiting from changing weather patterns.

“But the conclusion that rich countries should have benefited from warming is far less clear with limited support in this study… When one considers the possibility that warming in the current year might affect growth in future years, then the method employed by the study would suggest that most or all rich countries probably have also lost income,” Hsiang told Axios.

Second Study Says Cost of Climate Change is 10 Times Any Benefit

According to the second study, published in Nature Communications April 23, the cost of the melting Arctic will be 10 times greater than potential benefits, which include easier navigation for ships and access to minerals. The study used the most advanced simulation software in the U.S. and U.K., taking weeks to complete as it ran through an enormous and complex range of variables.

Thawing permafrost is particularly concerning because carbon and methane stored underneath the ice is released when the ice is melted. Scientists believe permafrost will melt more rapidly when temperatures reach above the 1.5 Celsius target, which will cause a negative feedback loop as carbon is released into the atmosphere.

The loss of the Arctic’s white ice, which serves to deflect some of the sun’s heat, was also factored into the $70 trillion in economic costs. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the entire global economy was worth $78.28 trillion in 2014.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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