Report: Climate change threatens to devastate the world's leading economic powers — including the U.S.

The world’s largest economies will suffer severe human and economic consequences of climate change, especially if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study from the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC), an Italian research center.

“From droughts, heatwaves and sea level rise, to dwindling food supplies and threats to tourism — these findings show how severely climate change will hit the world’s biggest economies, unless we act now,” said Donatella Spano, senior member of the CMCC’s Strategic Council and a scientist at the University of Sassari, in a statement that accompanied the report’s release.

The report studied the G-20, a group of 19 nations and the European Union that includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China and Russia, among others.

People work in the control rooms with displays of the CMCC (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change) in the background at an institute established to monitor and predict the effects of climate change on the Mediterranean region, in Lecce, Italy.
People at an institute established to monitor and predict the effects of climate change on the Mediterranean region on Sept. 22 in Lecce, Italy. (Janos Chiala/Getty Images)

It found that climate change impacts such as extreme heat and sea level rise are already causing death and destruction in the world’s leading economies, and that if climate change continues unabated, it will also lead to new plagues that proliferate in warmer climates. With medium to high emissions, as temperatures rise in the northern U.S., the Zika virus — which has previously been locally transmitted within the country only in Florida and Texas — could threaten 83 percent of the population by 2050. More than 92 percent of U.S. residents could be at risk from dengue fever.

If emissions remain high, Europe will have 90,000 deaths from extreme heat each year by the end of this century, up from 2,700 currently.

All of this has economic implications too. In a high-emissions future, countries such as France and Indonesia might lose one-fifth or more of their fishing catch due to warmer ocean temperatures, and sea level rise could wreck coastal infrastructure, resulting in projected losses of 404 billion euros ($468 billion) for Japan and 815 million euros ($945 billion) for South Africa by 2050.

Overall, the report estimated that G-20 countries will lose 4 percent of their total economic output by 2050 and 8 percent by 2100 if emissions don’t swiftly diminish.

The CMCC, which works with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released the report in advance of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, next week. The G-20 countries are responsible for around 80 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, where the United Nations climate summit will be held.
The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, where the U.N. climate summit will be held. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

The G-20 nations are all parties to the Paris Agreement, which was struck in 2015 and set the goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. But the individual national commitments to reduce emissions so far have put the world on a pathway toward at least 2.7°C of warming. The hope that G-20 nations like China and Brazil, which shied away from making strong emissions reduction pledges last time, would step up their ambition in advance of Glasgow has so far not materialized. According to a recent U.N. report, the planet is still headed for catastrophic climate change without bold new pledges.

“As scientists, we know that only rapid action to tackle emissions and adapt to climate change will limit the severe impacts of climate change,” Spano said in her statement. “At the upcoming summit, we invite G20 governments to listen to the science and put the world on a path to a better, fairer and more stable future.”

Cover thumbnail photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images


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