Cost Of Inaction Is Much More Than Net Xero

A survey by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University

Posted : 01 April, 2021
Author : Dr. Seema Javed
Cost Of Inaction Is Much More Than Net Xero

Politicians wanting to block climate action often argue it will cost too much. Sometimes they refer to the economic models that have been developed since the 1990s to determine the “cost vs benefit” of different levels of climate action versus different levels of warming.

Thousands of economists have spent years or decades studying the interaction between climate change and the economic systems that underly modern life. The views of these experts can help clarify how climate change will likely affect our society and economy, and how policymakers should approach greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts.

New research is coming on March 30 showing that economists from around the world see “immediate and drastic” action as necessary to prevent climate change costing tens of trillions of dollars in damages each year, and believe the costs of inaction are higher than the costs of eliminating net emissions.

It also finds that most economists see the benefits of getting emissions to net zero by mid century as far outweighing the costs. Economists’ widespread attitudes about the benefits of climate action adds to evidence that popular economic models used by policymakers to inform climate action have actually downplayed the costs of climate change. 

The upcoming survey was conducted by the NYU Institute for Policy Integrity and had 738 economists with climate change expertise responding, which makes it one the largest climate survey of economists ever conducted (we, and the authors, aren’t aware of any bigger surveys). 

There are lots of interesting findings to dig into in the survey including: 

74% of economists strongly agreed that "immediate and drastic action is necessary" to tackle climate change - up from 50% when the survey was last conducted in 2015. 

It's widely accepted that climate change will exacerbate income equality between countries, and 89% of survey respondents agreed with this. 70% of respondents also thought that inequality within countries will get worse as the world warms.  

Two-thirds said benefits of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century would outweigh costs.

Nearly 80% self-reported an increase in concern about climate change in the past five years. 

Economic damages from climate change will reach $1.7 trillion per year by 2025, and roughly $30 trillion per year (5% of projected GDP) by 2075 if the current warming trend continues, according to the respondents.

These findings are in stark contrast to economic models such as DICE, which have heavily influenced policymakers. DICE estimates an “optimal” temperature (where benefits and costs are balanced) of 3.5°C in 2100.  

GERNOT WAGNER, NYU WAGNER, associate professor, co-author of “Climate Shock”, Bloomberg contributor: 

"This survey shows how widespread the agreement is among economists that ambitious climate action is warranted. Cutting CO2 emissions comes at a cost, but the cost of not acting is significantly higher."

Dr. Seema Javed is an Environmentalist, Independent Journalist & Communication Consultant