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June 27, 2014
High Level Report Outlines Risks from Climate Change in US
    by Robert Kropp

The Risky Business Project releases a report warning of severe economic disruptions from rising sea levels and extreme heat.


Published in early May, the Third National Climate Assessment of the US Global Change Research Program stated clearly what scientists have been trying to tell for at least several years.

“Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations,” the report stated. “Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”

“The National Climate Assessment is less important for its content than its implied message,” Bill McKibben of 350.org wrote in a recent article. “It suggests that the Obama administration is finally going to get serious, at least rhetorically, about climate change.”

If we are indeed reaching, however belatedly, the point at which serious action on climate change will finally begin to occur, much credit goes to the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets outlined in a 2011 report by Carbon Tracker. The idea that 80% of the world's fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground if there is to be any chance of mitigating the worst effect of climate change led to the divestment campaign that began on college campuses. And there is no better way to get the attention of the mainstream investment industry that to frame those effects in dollars and cents.

In his article, McKibben quotes Kevin Bourne of the Financial Times Stock Exchange as stating, “This is one of the fastest-moving debates I think I’ve seen in my thirty years in markets.”

A report published this week by the Risky Business Project emphasizes further the “significant and diverse economic risks from climate change” faced by the US. The American economy is already beginning to feel the effects of climate change,” the report states. “These impacts will likely grow materially over the next 5 to 25 years and affect the future performance of today’s business and investment decisions.”

“Effect...today’s business and investment decisions.” The urgency manifest in that statement is given a prominent public face by the fact that two of the initiative's three co-chairs are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Henry Paulson, George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary. The report, Paulson stated, “shows us that our economy is vulnerable to an overwhelming number of risks from climate change. These risks include the potential for significant federal budget liabilities, since many businesses and property owners turn to the federal government as the insurer of last resort.”

The greatest risks, according to the report, include large-scale losses of coastal property and infrastructure due to rising sea levels; extreme heat threatening labor productivity, human health, and energy systems; and shifting agricultural patterns and crop yields.

“The US climate is paying the price today for business decisions made many years ago, especially through increased coastal storm damage and more extreme heat in parts of the country,” the report warns. “Every year that goes by without a comprehensive public and private sector response to climate change is a year that locks in future climate events that will have a far more devastating effect on our local, regional, and national economies.”

Global negotiators are scheduled to meet in Paris in December, 2015, in yet another effort to finally carve out a meaningful international climate treaty. Perhaps mindful of the track record of dismal failures in past negotiations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized a summit of world leaders at the organization's New York headquarters in September.

“In view of the twenty-five-year record of diplomatic futility, many of us who have tried to push for action will use the occasion, and the New York backdrop with its fresh memories of Sandy’s inundation, for what may turn out to be the largest street rallies in the history of the climate movement,” McKibben wrote.

 

 
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