The White House has released a report on the costs of delaying policy efforts to combat climate change. The report, prepared by President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, argues that a policy response to climate change is necessary precisely because our current economic arrangements do not impose any costs for the emission of green house gases, rendering the market incapable of addressing the effects of the warming caused by those gases.
Titled The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change, the report notes that the past decade was 0.8° Celsius (1.5° Fahrenheit) warmer than the average from 1901-1960. It also states that sea levels are currently rising at a rate of approximately 1.25 inches per decade, a rate that appears to be increasing.
Delaying policy action against this warming, understood by the scientific community to be caused by the human emissions of green house gases into the atmosphere, imposes economic costs in two ways. First decreases in agricultural production, reduction in water quality and availability, coastal flooding, and increases in heat-related illnesses damage the economy.
Second, continuing to release green house gases unfettered into the atmosphere will, in the future, require stricter regulations to meet the atmospheric green house gas concentration targets, which will have an increase cost over any present action that could take place.
Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, told the Washington Post that costs related to climate change impact disproportionately on third world countries, and thus the report’s estimate is not a cost that would be borne principally by the U.S.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told the New York Times that the report was released to help explain to the public why Obama has recently taken so many actions, generally without the involvement of Congress to combat climate change.