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IMF: Unmitigated Climate Change Will Slow Economic Growth

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
Climate Change

The U.S. experienced 14 climate and weather disasters in 2019 that each cost $1 billion or more. Those catastrophes attributed to climate change include three major floods, eight severe storms, two tropical cyclones and one wildfire. Last year marked the fifth consecutive year in which 10 or more billion-dollar disasters occurred in the U.S.

All of those billion-dollar disasters slow down the economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) described the global economy as “in a synchronized slowdown” in the October 2019 edition of the World Economic Outlook. In a recently released update, global growth is projected to only increased “modestly” from 2.9 percent in 2019 to 3.3 percent in 2020 and 3.4 percent in 2021. Growth in advanced economies is projected to “slow slightly” from 1.7 percent in 2019 to 1.6 percent in 2020 and 2021. Growth in the U.S. is projected to slow, too. “The projected recovery for global growth remains uncertain,” the IMF noted in its update.

Part of the sluggishness of the economy is attributed to climate change. The IMF urged countries “to cooperate on multiple fronts to lift growth and spread prosperity,” which includes limiting global temperature rise and “the severe consequences of weather-related natural disasters.”

Average global temperature rise will affect economic growth

The IMF released a report in October 2019 which looked at the long-term impacts of climate change on the economy. By analyzing data from 174 countries, researchers found that “per-capita real output growth is adversely affected by persistent changes in the temperature above or below its historical norm.” A “persistent increase” of just 0.04 degrees Celsius per year in average global temperature, without mitigation policies, will reduce GDP per capita by over 7 percent by 2100, they found.

Climate researchers tend to underestimate the costs of climate change, according to a report by a team of scientists and economists from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. One of the takeaways from their report is that both political and business leaders need to understand that economic losses from failing to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be significant.

The costs of not mitigating climate change will be high in the U.S. alone: A 2019 study found that there are already damages in some sectors across the country, and they will increase to hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century without checks on global temperature rise. Researchers concluded that no regions in the country will “escape some mix of adverse impacts.”

The Fourth National Climate Assessment in 2018 came to similar conclusions. If emissions continue to grow at “historic rates,” there will be annual losses in some sectors that reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century and will be more than the current GDP of many U.S. states. “In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities,” the U.S. national assessment stated.

The economic losses of climate change can be lessened

There is a big lesson to be learned here: The economic loss of climate change can be lessened. Limiting annual temperature increases to 0.01 degrees Celsius will reduce the GDP loss to around 1 percent, according to the IMF. The International Labor Organization projects that there will be gains from climate change mitigation, which includes 18 million more jobs from limiting global temperature rise and 6 million more jobs from embracing the circular economy.

Image credit: Marcus Kauffman/Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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