Climate change will cost US hundreds of billions in coming decades, watchdog report says

The GAO report lays out how much climate change could cost the U.S. economy.

October 24, 2017, 12:43 PM

— -- Congress's top watchdog is out with a report today about the expensive consequences of climate change and is using those numbers to urge President Donald Trump to take action.

Over the last decade, extreme weather and fires have cost the federal government over $350 billion, according to a 2016 report from the Office of Management and Budget, and today's report from the Government Accountability Office found climate change will only get more expensive over the next century.

The most concerning number is the projection for the costs of premature deaths related to extreme temperatures. In the years 2040 to 2059, premature deaths could cost the health sector up to $161 billion a year. Between 2080 and 2099, costs could increase to $90 billion to $506 billion a year.

On a broader scale, the report predicts that combined costs of climate change across health, labor, agriculture and other sectors could make up 0.7 to 2.4 of the country's GDP by the end of the century.

To contrast the costs of climate change, the study also provides numbers on how much money the U.S. would save by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The value of "avoided deaths" from poor air quality alone would be $160 billion saved a year by 2050 and that figure goes up to $930 billion a year by 2100. Separately, the report found the U.S. would save $200 billion a year preventing deaths due to extreme temperatures in 49 major cities.

The authors from the Government Accountability Office recommended in the report that the office of the president specifically use this information to "help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses."

But the Trump administration has cited the cost of environmental regulations proposed during the Obama administration as one reason to roll them back. The Environmental Protection Agency noted that repealing the Clean Air Act would avoid $33 billion in costs for facilities to comply with the rule by 2030 in its press release about the decision.

In Trump's speech when he announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he also cited costs to the economy as a reason the U.S. should not pay into international efforts to combat global temperature rise. In that announcement in June Trump cited "draconian financial and economic burdens," citing lost jobs and production decreases in industries like coal, iron and steel. The president was citing a study by a pro-business group called National Economic Research Associates but many experts say that jobs created in renewable energy offset job losses in industries like coal. Many major companies urged Trump not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The EPA has thus far only provided technical comments about a draft of the report. "We continue to study and examine climate change, and we will review the GAO report," an EPA spokesperson told ABC News.

This GAO report was required under the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which was established in 1990 and also produces the National Climate Assessment every five years.

The study does note that the numbers are projections and are not precise. The findings are based on complex climate and economic models using government and nonprofit data. The numbers estimating cost are based on the American Climate Prospectus, a study published in 2014 by the Rhodium Group. The numbers estimating benefits from reducing emissions are from the Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis, an ongoing project coordinated by the EPA that published a study in 2015.

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