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Professor Patrick Verkooijen comments on the economics of climate action during UN Ambassadors event in New York

October 31, 2013

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A recent “Friends on Climate Change” meeting, hosted by Dr. Mark Lyall Grant, UK Ambassador to the United Nations, on October 31 in New York provided a platform for Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, CIERP Non-Resident Professor of Practice of Sustainable Development Diplomacy and Special Representative for Climate Change of the World Bank, to underscore that climate change in our lifetime threatens to roll back development gains we have made so far. He emphasized that every region will be affected, and those least able to adapt – the poor and most vulnerable – will be hit hardest. Even with a 2 degree warmer world we will see widespread food and water shortages, more extreme weather, higher sea levels, and increased coastal flooding. In Sub-Saharan Africa by the 2030s droughts will leave 40 percent of the land now growing maize unable to grow that crop. Last month's IPCC report concluded with 95 percent certainty that humans have been causing global warming over the last 6 decades. 

Professor Verkooijen stated that the economic costs of extreme weather events are stunning. Coastal city flooding costs 6 billion USD a year today, but could reach 1 trillion by 2050. Investing "just" 50 billion a year in protection would avoid those costs, and would free up 950 billion to invest in better schools, hospitals and other public goods. Obviously 50 billion is still a great deal of money – but the economic rationale is clear. The costs are not just from extreme weather events. A recent report the World Bank did in Eastern Europe and Central Asia showed that air pollution from fossil fuel burning causes health costs of about 20 billion USD every year. Investments in clean energy and transport would reduce these health costs from local pollution.

Verkooijen also recognized that many countries are taking action and rapidly developing low carbon growth plans and that more can be done. It is clear that every country has a sweet spot where growth and climate action can go hand in hand. Promising work is underway by many governments to help find these sweet spots, for jobs, for growth, for resilience, investing in clean energy, energy efficiency, clean buildings, expanding public transport systems, improving urban waste management and strengthening early warning systems.