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Groundbreaking Study Shows Limiting Warming to 1.5 Degrees Is Good for the Economy, Too

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Low water levels in Cape Town's Theewaterskloof dam could be a preview of climate-related droughts to come. Zaian / CC BY-SA 4.0

When politicians refuse to take action on climate change, they often use the economy as an excuse. President Donald Trump, for example, justified his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement in economic terms.


"The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers—who I love—and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production," he said in his official statement.

But a Stanford University study published in Nature Wednesday blows that thinking out of the rising water. The study, one of the first to assess the economic benefits of honoring the Paris agreement, found that there was a 60 percent chance that the global economy would benefit to the tune of more than $20 trillion by meeting the more ambitious Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, compared to allowing temperatures to rise a full two degrees.

The study found there was a more than 75 percent chance that a 1.5 degree world would economically benefit 71 percent of the world's countries containing 90 percent of the world's population. This included the world's largest economies of China, Japan and the U.S.

"For most countries in the world, including the U.S., we find strong evidence that the benefits of achieving the ambitious Paris targets are likely to vastly outweigh the costs," lead study author Marshall Burke said in a Stanford University press release.

According to the release, the costs of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius have been estimated to be 30 times less than the benefits calculated by the study.

The economies of poorer countries will especially benefit.

"The low-latitude countries, which are already warm and already poor, in many cases, are highly likely to benefit from lower levels of warming because of the fact that they're highly likely to incur damages for higher levels of warming," study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh told The Los Angeles Times.

The only countries that would be economically disadvantaged by a 1.5 degree warmer world compared to a two degree warmer world were Russia, Canada, the Nordic and Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, AFP reported.

To achieve their results, researchers examined how economic performance changed according to temperature fluctuations in the past half-century. They then used climate models to assess how economic output would change after 1.5 degrees of warming, the most ambitious Paris target, two degrees of warming, the maximum Paris target, 2.5 to three degrees of warming, which is what global temperatures are calculated to reach if participating countries do not up their current Paris commitments, and four degrees of warming.

They found that a 2.5 to three degree warmer world would lead to a per capita decrease in economic output of 15 to 25 percent and that a four degree warmer world would reduce per capita economic output by more than 30 percent.

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