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Climate Change Blog

EPA’s Report Concludes That Global Action on Climate Change Would Save Lives, Reduce Damages and Costs

On June 22, 2015, EPA released a report, entitled Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action, which attempts to detail the physical and monetary benefits to the U.S. of reducing Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions on a global level. The report concludes that limiting the global temperature increase to about 2 degrees above the pre-industrial levels would prevent thousands of U.S. deaths and save billions of dollars in electricity costs and damages associated with extreme temperatures, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts.  

The report summarizes results from the EPA Climate Change Impacts and Risks Analysis (“CIRA”) project. EPA undertook the CIRA project to estimate the degree to which climate change impacts in the U.S. are avoided or reduced in the twenty-first century under significant GHG mitigation. The project assesses the risks of inaction (e.g. unchecked GHG emissions) and benefits to the U.S. of global GHG mitigation across twenty different climate change impacts, categorized within six broad sectors:

  • water resources
  • electricity
  • infrastructure
  • health
  • agriculture and forestry
  • ecosystems

When examining the impacts across these sectors, the EPA report identifies several common themes. Below are examples of these themes and the impacts discussed in the report. 

1) EPA reports that Global GHG Mitigation Reduces the Frequency of Extreme Weather Events and Associated Impacts

According to the report, extreme heat, sea level rise, storm surges, floods, heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and melting snowpack are examples of extreme weather events predicted to increase in frequency over time if climate change goes unmitigated. These events may impact agriculture and forest production, damage coastal property, roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, and cause weather related mortalities, among other things. The report predicts that by the end of the century, global GHG mitigation measures are likely to substantially reduce the occurrences of extreme temperatures and precipitation events and mitigate the associated impacts from these events on human health and the environment. According to the report, mitigation would result in the following benefits:

  • By 2100, global GHG mitigation would likely prevent annually approximately 12,000 deaths associated with extreme temperatures in 49 major U.S. cities. 
  • Global GHG mitigation is estimated to substantially reduce the number of bridges that will become vulnerable by reducing the projected increase in peak river flows, according to the report. Mitigation would provide benefits of $3.4-$4.2 billion from 2010-2050 and $10-$15 billion from 2051-2100.
  • The report claims additional benefits in the following chart, which is found on page 78 of the Report:

2) EPA reports that Global GHG Mitigation Avoids Costly Damages in the U.S.

The report projects that global GHG mitigation will prevent or substantially reduce the costly adverse impacts of climate change across virtually all sectors. For example: 

  • EPA projects that global GHG mitigation will save $4.2-$7.4 billion associated with avoided road maintenance in 2100 and would avoid 230,000-360,000 lost acreage of coldwater fish habitat across the country. 
  • EPA estimates that mitigation will result in a reduction of flood damages associated with increased intensity of precipitation events of approximately $2.9 billion in 2100. 
  • EPA projects that the greatest damages will occur in the eastern U.S. and Texas, with damages ranging from $1-$3.7 billion in these regions in 2100 if climate change goes unmitigated. The chart below, which is found on page 52 of the report, shows EPA’s estimated flood damages throughout the contiguous U.S. if climate change goes unmitigated.

3) EPA Reports that Adaptation Can Reduce Overall Damages in Certain Sectors

EPA concludes that although global GHG mitigation would reduce or prevent many of the negative impacts associated with climate change, the report states that adaptation can also substantially reduce certain impacts regardless of the future GHG levels. 

  • The damages EPA estimated to coastal property from sea level rise and storm surge in the contiguous U.S. would be reduced by over $4 trillion through 2100 just by implementing cost-effective adaptation measures along the coast. The study determined cost-effective responses for at-risk areas based on projected sea level rise, storm surge height, property value, and costs of protective measures at each coastal area.
  • Adaptation measures the study took into account include beach nourishment, property elevation, shoreline armoring, and property abandonment.

4) Impacts Vary Across Time and Space

The EPA report explains that climate change impacts are not evenly applied across all regions. Some regions of the U.S. are more vulnerable to climate change than others. The report provides these examples:

  • The national trend of increasing wildfire activity over time is actually driven primarily by the projected changes in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions. 
  • If climate change goes unchecked, California will face the greatest increased risk of drought. 
  • All impacts will not occur uniformly and gradually over time, with some exhibiting threshold responses such as a tipping point where large changes occur over a short period of time. One instance of this type of tipping point response is the high-temperature bleaching events that are projected to occur by 2025, which is estimated to severely affect coral reefs in the Caribbean.

5) EPA Reports that the Benefits of GHG Mitigation Increase over Time

The CIRA project identified a delay in the benefits realized with GHG mitigation measures. According to EPA, this is attributable to inertia in the climate system. As a result, EPA projects that the benefits of GHG mitigation will be greater in 2100 than in 2050 for the majority of the sectors analyzed. The report urges that delaying action will likely increase the risks of significant and costly impacts in the future and any actions taken today can have long-term effects on our climate. Thus, the report concludes that delaying action on climate change now will likely reduce EPA’s projected future benefits.

Posted at 07/17/2015 12:30 PM

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