Addressing the Climate Crisis Strengthens Economies, New Research Finds
New research shows that the choice between climate action and economic growth is in fact a false dichotomy. chuyu / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Every country around the world would see economic gains from combating the climate crisis and trying to keep global heating within the bounds of the Paris agreement, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The straw man argument against taking action on the climate crisis is that the cost of limiting emissions and investing in green infrastructure is too steep and would cripple economies. It turns out, according to the research, that the opposite is true.
In fact, the study found that if nations around the world fail to curtail greenhouse gas emissions within the bounds of the Paris agreement, the global economy will lose anywhere from $150 trillion to nearly $800 trillion by the year 2100, as CBS News reported. The upper end of the range is if countries fail to meet their current commitments, which are inadequate to meet the Paris agreement as they are expected to lead to 3 degrees Celsius in warming.
The study's authors, from the Beijing Institute of Technology and other Chinese institutions, billed their findings as a self-preservation strategy for government, according to The Guardian.
The researchers calculated the potential benefits of emissions reductions by looking at the social welfare aspects of cutting greenhouse gases and its affect on economic growth. They found that the benefits from cutting emissions would provide the largest boost to developing countries with large populations of poor and vulnerable people, who are most likely to be negatively affected by droughts, floods, fires, storms and food shortages, as The Guardian reported.
While all countries would benefit in the long term, the most immediate benefits would go to developing countries with high emissions, such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria and China, according to The Guardian.
The Paris agreement is composed of voluntary commitments known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, made by each country in the accord. The main aspect of the commitments is to reduce greenhouse emissions by cutting the burning of fossil fuels, thus reducing global warming and the adverse impacts of warming. However, many countries are witnessing economic damage from the coronavirus lockdowns and are rethinking their commitment to their NDCs. Already, government bailouts for the fossil fuel industry and the airline industry are in the works, as well as a rollback of their carbon emission reductions, as CBS News reported.
"A number of studies have proved that current [NDCs] are not enough to achieve the global warming targets," said Biying Yu, from the Beijing Institute of Technology and a co-author of the study, as CBS News reported.
The research shows that the choice between climate action and economic growth is in fact a false dichotomy. The authors' work concludes that countries could reach their climate goals and at the same time see an increase in their net income.
According to CBS News, Yu and her team calculated ideal strategies for countries to improve their NDCs, minimize economic losses and maximize gains. They found that if nations are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the net global economic benefit would range between $127 trillion and $616 trillion by the end of the century.
"Early and quick action will provide a better chance to close the widening emissions gap, even though a large amount of abatement cost would occur in the short term," said the study.
"The literature overwhelmingly shows the economic benefits of serious mitigation efforts exceed the costs in the long run," said Noah Kaufman, a climate and energy economist from Columbia University, to CBS News.
However, Yu is concerned that governments will be short-sighted and balk at the upfront cost of investing in infrastructure to combat the climate crisis. She also sees that the climate emergency takes commitments from every country.
"Combating climate change is not a matter for one country. It requires collective action and cooperation from all countries around the world," Yu explained, as CBS News reported. "Let's work together and save ourselves."
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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