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‘Ocean economics’ study shows $2tr/yr cost of climate change

The economic value of the world’s oceans could drop by $2 trillion a year by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise on their current trend, according to a Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) study.

The Valuing the Ocean report, a summary of which was released on Wednesday, calculates the economic impact over the next 50 and 100 years, under low- and high-emissions scenarios, in five categories: fisheries, tourism, sea-level rise, storms and the ocean carbon sink.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb on their current path, and average temperatures increase by 4°C by 2100, the estimated annual cost of damages will be $1.98 trillion.

However, a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, such that the global temperature rise is limited to 2.2°C, would avoid almost $1.4 trillion of the $2 trillion of damages, the SEI said.

The figures “provide an indication of the price of the avoidable portion of future environmental damage on the ocean – in effect the distance between our hopes and our fears,” said Frank Ackerman, director of the SEI’s climate economics group. “The cost of inaction increases greatly with time, a factor which must be fully recognised in climate change accounting.”

The study also notes that oceans face multiple threats – such as acidification, warming, pollution and over-use of marine resources – that together could lead to damages far greater than just from individual threats. However, it does not put a monetary value on the total projected damages.

The full report will be released this summer, but the summary “sends a strong message to world leaders preparing for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June”, the SEI said.

The authors urge policy-makers to fully consider the threats to ocean services in broader economic and development plans, including by valuing the potential of marine ecosystems to absorb carbon. They also call for local measures, such as marine protected areas, to boost the resilience of marine ecosystems.

Environmental Finance


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