World Should Act Now to Reduce the Costs of Climate Change

We've all heard the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and world leaders would do well to take that lesson to heart when it comes to climate change. A new report released by the United Nations and the World Bank concludes dealing with and responding to climate change and climate disasters now will be much less expensive than dealing with the proliferation of natural disasters that would result from runaway global warming. By curbing carbon emissions and helping the developing world build infrastructure that protects people from extreme weather, major economies can save money in the long run.

This year’s rash of horrific natural disasters—from the earthquake in Haiti, to floods in Pakistan, to massive wildfires in Russia—underscores the huge toll such events can take in terms of both human life and property damage. And though natural disasters have always been a part of life on Earth, at least the last two examples listed above were likely linked to climate change. Unusual wind patterns linked to warmer global temperatures have been blamed for contributing to both the Russian fires and the Pakistani floods.

From rising sea levels to more intense hurricanes, challenges posed by natural disasters are only likely to get worse as climate change continues. The UN and World Bank report recommends reducing loss of life and property partly by making sure communities in the developing world are prepared to deal with disasters when they arise. The report notes that in Haiti, for instance, poverty and a resulting lack of preparedness all contributed to increased casualties. Even today, it makes more sense economically for countries like the US to help developing nations prepare for extreme weather and earthquakes, rather than responding with foreign aid once disaster has already struck.

As climate change continues, this will become truer than ever. And while a certain amount of global warming has become inevitable, major economies can minimize the damage by reducing carbon emissions now. For example, by preventing the drastic rise in sea levels predicted to occur if large parts of Greenland and the Antarctic melt, the world can avoid having to deal with the displacement of vast populations throughout low-elevation parts of the world. Developed countries are themselves certainly not immune to the dangers of climate change, either. One only has to remember the effects of Hurricane Katrina to realize that.

Aside from the major human rights and humanitarian implications of allowing climate change to continue, it makes more sense economically for the world to get serious about reducing carbon emissions now. To avoid having to pay for major consequences later, large economies in both the industrialized and developing worlds should focus on reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and ramping up investments in renewable energy. If they do not, they risk making an increase in deadly and expensive natural disasters inevitable.

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