We’ve all heard the argument that the economic costs of fully and rapidly addressing global climate change are just too high: it’s been a major argument of the White House’s response to critics, as well as other conservatives. On Friday, the UK’s Guardian took note of a new study by powerhouse accounting firm PricewaterHouseCoopers that attempted to estimate the numbers. Turns out the costs may not be so high after all:
The world would have to give up only one year’s economic growth over the next four decades to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to stave off the threat of global warming, a report says today.
Consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers offer a “green growth plus” strategy, combining energy efficiency, greater use of renewables and carbon capture to cut emissions by 60% by 2050 from the level reached by doing nothing. Nuclear energy, it says, can play a role, but it is not crucial.
This scenario, which involves little real sacrifice in terms of economic growth, could be achieved only if embarked upon without delay, the report warns.
“If countries adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach, the result could be a more than doubling of global carbon emissions by 2050,” said John Hawksworth, head of macroeconomics at PwC.
“Our analysis suggests that there are technologically feasible and relatively low cost options for controlling carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that the level of GDP might be reduced by no more than 2-3% in 2050 if this strategy is followed.”
The report itself (in PDF) is dense — I struggled through the executive summary, and would be happy to have someone translate some of the finer points. The overall point, though, is well taken: it’s likely going to be cheaper to fight climate change with technology currently available then to allow “business as usual” to proceed. Of course, the big players over the next 45 years won’t necessarily be the US and Europe, but rather rapidly developing countries like India, China, Turkey and Brazil. If we can encourage these economies to adopt these technologies (which we’ll need to do ourselves, too), bringing carbon levels down to an acceptable level is possible. Political will, of course, is the wild card here… any ideas on how this might be sold to politicians eager to gain and/or retain an office?