After meeting in Uganda this week, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a troubling warning: over the next several decades, “unprecedented extreme weather” will become much less unprecedented. Because global warming has continued mostly unabated, future generations can expect more floods, cyclones, and droughts—and, of course, more heat waves. A century from now, heat waves that today are once-in-a-generation events will occur every other year. In addition to making parts of the planet dangerous and even uninhabitable, these developments will cost the world huge sums. What price is the world going to pay for its inaction?
According to a 2009 study, the costs of adapting to a warming world will easily reach into the hundreds of billions every year. Projections are obviously difficult, but according to the best available data, global spending by 2030 could reach an additional $170 billion every year. The harm caused by global warming will require massive amounts of new spending not only on infrastructure and disaster preparedness, but on water access, agriculture, and human health. And that’s just the beginning of the good news. As the study notes, some experts believe that after 2030, the costs “may rise steeply, possibly quadratically in some sectors.”