The economic impact of climate change will cost a number of U.S. states billions of dollars, and delaying action will raise the price tag, concludes the latest series of reports produced by the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER).
The new reports project specific long-term direct and ripple economic effects on North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In most cases, the price tag could run into billions of dollars.
The studies combine existing data with new analysis and have been conducted by CIER in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislators. Last July they released similar studies on Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Ohio. (link to state-by-state reports below.)
"State and local communities would do well to prepare for a cascade of impacts on many of their most basic systems and services," says Matthias Ruth, principal investigator and director of the Center for Integrative Environmental Research at the University of Maryland. "From sewers to aquifers, highways and health systems, climate change will rewrite communities' infrastructure needs. Quick action will be expensive, but delayed action will cost even more."
Last year, Ruth conducted a similar nationwide analysis and concluded that the total economic cost of climate change in the United States will be major and affect all regions, though the cost remains uncounted, unplanned for and largely hidden in public debate.
"It's important to pinpoint the economic fallout from climate change at a much more local level, because it gives citizens and policymakers data that can help them plan for changes that lie ahead," Ruth adds. "Many states are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and these studies suggest that the resulting impacts could create serious economic dislocation, running, in many cases to billions of dollars. Some of the climate changes have already been set in motion and these will create economic effects. But inaction or delay will only worsen the situation."
Summary of state findings
North Carolina: Most significant impact likely felt along the coastline, but damage to agriculture, forestry and manufacturing could also occur with total costs running into billions of dollars.
North Dakota: "If drought and flooding increase as predicted, crop and livestock productivity is likely to decrease. Climate change also may cause losses in the tourism industry and increase the cost of maintaining infrastructure," says the report. It also projects a decline in hydroelectric production capacity. Total losses could cost the state millions of dollars.
Pennsylvania: "Overall, climate change may create significant economic costs for infrastructure, manufacturing, water resources, and agriculture; forestry may see some economic benefits," says the CIER report. Total costs could run into billions of dollars.
Tennessee: Increases in temperature greater than the global average, a seven percent increase in precipitation, along with increases in extreme weather, are predicted for the state. The forestry sector may see some benefits from these changes, but the state's strained water resources may suffer, as may infrastructure, the hunting industry and public health. Economic losses could run into billions of dollars.
Reports with summaries and full-text are available state-by-state at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/environ/ClimatePubs.htm.
Lessons for all states
The reports offer five "lessons" derived from the researchers' analysis:
- "There are already considerable costs to society associated with infrastructures, agricultural and silvicultural practices, land use choices, transportation and consumptive behaviors that are not in synch with past and current climatic conditions. These costs are likely to increase as climate change accelerates over the century to come."
- "The effects of climate change should not be considered in isolation. Every state's economy is linked to the economies of surrounding states as well as to the national and global economy. While the economic costs of climate change are predicted to vary significantly from state to state, the negative impacts that regional, national and global markets may experience are likely to affect all states and many sectors."
- "While some of the benefits from climate change may accrue to individual farms or businesses, the cost of dealing with adverse climate impacts are typically borne by society as a whole. These costs to society will not be uniformly distributed but felt most among small businesses and farms, the elderly and socially marginalized groups."
- "The costs of inaction are persistent and lasting. Benefits from climate change may be brief and fleeting - for example, climate does not stop changing once a farm benefited from temporarily improved growing conditions. In contrast, costs of inaction are likely to stay and to increase."
- "Climate models and impact assessments are becoming increasingly refined...Yet, little consistency exists among studies to enable 'summing up' impacts and cost figures across sectors and regions to arrive at a comprehensive, state-wide result." More precise modeling will require further research.
The researchers selected all 12 states for analysis based on the availability of data from prior studies, while avoiding replication of research on states already in the limelight (e.g., California). The researchers also wished to provide geographical diversity.
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