Paris Agreement global warming-target of 1.5°C may prevent negative economic impacts of climate change

29 Mar 2018

Stabilising global temperatures at 1.5°C warming in line with the UN’s 2015 Paris Agreement may prevent significant climate-induced economic impacts. Economic growth under 1.5°C warming is likely to be similar to what we see under current climate conditions, while reaching 2°C could lead to a significant decrease in economic growth for a large set of countries, according to a new study by British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Felix Pretis and colleagues at the University of Oxford.

The authors simulated different global warming scenarios to explore the relative effects on economies, demonstrating significant benefit to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times.

The paper, published today, illustrates which countries would be the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, with the Global South unsurprisingly the worst affected by the economic impacts of climate change. While the Northern Hemisphere is projected to warm more rapidly than other regions, countries around the Equator are expected to face significant economic decline if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5°C.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and central and South America will be most affected by global temperature rise, as the study predicts economic growth could decrease between 1-2% annually.

Dr Felix Pretis, Postdoctoral Fellow and co-director of Oxford’s Climate Econometrics project, said:

“The uncertainties around economic impacts of climate change are high. However, even accounting for uncertainty around future climate change and how economies react to climate, we find that an increase of 2°C shows significant negative outcomes for countries in the Tropics”.

“This is likely because these countries already face high temperatures, leaving them more vulnerable to future temperature rise that could affect agriculture and productivity.”

Co-author Moritz Schwarz emphasises that “projected economic losses are greatest in low income countries, suggesting increasing levels of inequality with further climate change”.

The challenges of reducing emissions to achieve the targets set out by the Paris Agreement are numerous; however, the study shows the economic gains may well be worth the pursuit.

This paper was published on April 2, 2018 in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Pretis, F., Schwarz, M., Tang, K., Haustein, K., Allen M.R. 2018. Uncertain Impacts on Economic Growth When Stabilizing Global Temperatures at 1.5°C or 2°C warming. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 376:20160460

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellows are outstanding early career researchers recognised for the quality of their academic research and potential. Normally around 45 awards are made each year, representing the best 6-7% of applicants to the scheme.

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