Cost of Adapting to Climate Change May Climb to $500B, Says U.N. Environmental Agency

Patrick Goodenough | December 8, 2014 | 5:51pm EST
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Almost 200 countries are taking part in U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

( – As Secretary of State John Kerry and other ministers prepare to join global climate talks in Peru, the U.N.’s environmental agency is claiming that the cost for the planet to “adapt” to global warming could be up to five times higher than previously estimated – a whopping $500 billion a year by mid-century.

A new report by the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) states that the cost of helping developing nations adapt to rising temperatures “could climb as high as $150 billion by 2025/2030 and $250-500 billion per year by 2050.”

It says those figures could be needed even if greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cuts succeed in restricting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (3.6°F) above the pre-industrial period average – the goal which world leaders several years ago agreed was necessary to avoid potentially catastrophic effects on the planet.

And if that two degrees Celsius target isn’t achieved, UNEP says, a business-as-usual scenario could see adaptation costs “hit double the worst-case figures.”

Five years ago in Copenhagen, the U.S. and other developed nations agreed on setting up a global fund to help developing countries curb GHG emissions and cope with occurrences attributed to climate change, from drought and floods to rising sea levels.

The subsequently-established Green Climate Fund (GCF) aims to raise $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020, an annual commitment already viewed as unrealistic by some critics.

Now UNEP says the actual amount needed could be much higher than that, and that earlier figures – based on 2010 World Bank data – were significantly underestimated.

“The report provides a powerful reminder that the potential cost of inaction carries a real price tag,” UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said on Friday. “Debating the economics of our response to climate change must become more honest. We owe it to ourselves but also to the next generation, as it is they who will have to foot the bill.”

Steiner called on governments and the international community to “take the necessary steps to ensure the funding, technology and knowledge gaps are addressed in future planning and budgeting.”

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To date, industrialized countries that are expected to take the lead in providing the money have pledged a total of $9.9 billion for the GCF, less than ten percent of the amount the U.N. says will be needed every year from 2020 onwards. U.S. taxpayers will account for $3 billion of that $9.9 billion total so far.

China’s delegate at the talks in the Peruvian capital Lima complained last week that the amount pledged for the fund to date was “far from adequate.”

China, the world’s biggest GHG emitter and now the world’s largest economy, has pledged nothing.

At the U.N. climate talks in Lima – the 20th round since the first conference in Berlin in 1995 – ministers from almost 200 countries are due to hold a high-level meeting on climate finance on Tuesday afternoon.

Kerry, who is due to join the proceedings, said last week that President Obama’s pledge of $3 billion for the GCF made it clear “that the Obama administration and the United States are all-in on this issue and committed to try to take steps that are long overdue.”

“We intend to continue to try to build momentum moving into next year,” he told reporters in Brussels.

“We believe that not only is there obviously the practical advantage of responding to the events – to the transformation taking place in the climate that is contributing to very severe weather events, to major flooding, major fires, major drought, to shifts in agriculture and other impacts that have huge cost – but we believe it is becoming more and more evident that it is cheaper to invest in the new technologies and move to the clean energy economy,” Kerry said. “And we are going to continue to work for that.”

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