$200 Trillion Is Needed to Stop Global Warming. That’s a Bargain.
What price tag would you put on preserving a functioning human civilization? Would $200 trillion just about cover it? Could that even be a bargain? Bloomberg NEF, Bloombergs green-energy research team, estimates in a new report this week it could cost $196 trillion in investments to zero out the worlds carbon emissions by 2050, as many countries have pledged to do, to avoid society-destroying global warming. It probably wont shock you to learn the worlds net-zero pledges havent yet been followed by the hard cash, or even promises of hard cash, necessary to make them a reality. BNEF suggests annual green investments will need to nearly triple to $6.9 trillion by 2030 if we are to have any hope of hitting net zero by 2050. This will include governments, businesses and consumers swapping most of the worlds fleet of gas-powered vehicles for electric ones, building charging stations for those vehicles and replacing fossil fuel-powered energy with wind, solar and other renewables, with new grids to connect them all. With the tangible impacts of climate change becoming more real by day, the window to make a dent in global warming is closing, BNEF analyst Nilushi Karunaratne wrote in a report. But there is still an opportunity for meaningful change. The BNEF estimate actually is on the low end compared with a McKinsey reckoning that transitioning society away from fossil fuels will require average annual spending of $9.2 trillion between 2021 and 2050, or $275 trillion. Similar to BNEF, McKinsey also warned the highest spending would have to occur within the next 15 years. As shockingly large as these numbers may seem, they are minimal compared with the likely price tag for doing nothing. Insurance giant Swiss Re has estimated that runaway global warming could gouge $23 trillion per year from global GDP, with the US economy 7% smaller than in a cooler world and developed economies possibly 10% smaller than they should be. By such measures, spending $200 trillion over 27 years sounds relatively cheap. S&P Global has estimated climate change could shave 4% from annual global GDP by 2050. That could mean a mere $13 trillion per year in economic losses still more than the $7 trillion or so we would spend to avoid them. And those losses would fall especially hard on fast-growing countries in the global South, with South Asia losing 15% of GDP, Central Asia losing 7% and sub-Saharan Africa losing 6%. The zero-by-2050 goal isnt some arbitrary target but likely our best hope of keeping global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages, beyond which the damage to the planets habitability will rise exponentially. At the moment, were on a path to approach 3C of warming, which scientists warn could render large swaths of the planet unlivable. The tricky part of convincing politicians and voters to commit to net-zero is that most of the worst costs of rampant global heating are still decades down the road, while most of the investment to avoid such a disaster needs to happen right away. As anybody who has ever struggled to exercise, save for retirement or put off watching just one more episode of The Bear knows, humans have a hard time delaying gratification, even if it will make their future selves happier and more prosperous. But climate change is already wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods in 2023, after just 1.2C of warming. It shouldnt be too hard to imagine a world in which todays climate disasters seem quaint in comparison. Doing everything we can to avoid such a future is well worth a price that will only get steeper the longer we wait. More From Bloomberg Opinion: Actually, Your Neighbors Really Do Care About Climate: Mark Gongloff Once-Bold UK Is Now a Laggard in Climate Fight: Lara Williams To Beat the Heat, Well Need to Turn Our Homes Into Batteries: David Fickling (Corrects the average annual spending needed to transition society away from fossil fuels in fifth paragraph.) This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist covering climate change. A former managing editor of Fortune.com, he ran the HuffPosts business and technology coverage and was a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion 2023 Bloomberg L.P.