We need cost-saving climate action now, the alternative is unimaginable

The cost of inaction on the climate crisis has a new number – the global economy could lose $178trn over the next 50 years. This figure, along with the devastating impact of the climate crisis on human life, confirms yet again that we must act now to save our planet.

We need cost-saving climate action now, the alternative is unimaginable

Our climate is at a tipping point, beyond which our world will continue to heat no matter what is done to control our greenhouse gas emissions. According to Deloitte’s Global Turning Point Report, if we do not take action to cut our carbon emissions now, over the next 50 years the climate crisis will cost the global economy a staggering $178trn. Combined with the fact that inaction is already costing us the lives of millions each year, there is only one moral choice: move to zero-carbon now.

The true cost of inaction

Developing countries suffer 99% of all deaths from weather related disasters, as well as over 90% of economic losses, yet the 50 least developed countries contribute less than 1% of global carbon emissions. Compare this to the world’s richest countries, who contribute 79% of historic carbon emissions, and a clear pattern emerges: the world’s poorest people are suffering from the most devastating effects of a crisis they did not cause.

We are watching this happen every day, as heatwaves in India and Pakistan create unliveable conditions, catastrophic floods kill hundreds in South Africa, and sandstorms in Iraq rob farmers of their livelihoods and send thousands to hospital. All these events have happened in the last few months, and we will continue to see an increase in the number and intensity of climate disasters if we don’t act.

We are looking at a dark future if we continue down this path, but if we act now, we have reasons to be hopeful. We have no excuses, and it is clearer than ever that swiftly re-orienting our global economy onto a low-carbon, sustainable and equitable path will positively impact everyone.

In the long term, switching to sustainable energy and technology and halving our global emissions would create more new jobs than it would take away from carbon-intensive sectors, with the International Labour Organisation reporting that meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement would create 18 million net new jobs globally by 2030. By keeping to 2°C in the next 50 years, we can prevent millions of premature deaths, with 4.5 million deaths and 1.4 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits avoided in the United States alone.

These massive economic, environmental and societal benefits are only the start of what could be. There is a future our children can look forward to, but only if our leaders take decisive action now.

Governments must act 

Our world’s leaders have a responsibility to use their unique power to take a “whole of government, economy and society” approach to combat the climate crisis. Heads of governments must create an ambitious vision with climate action at the heart of every political portfolio.

Since 1988, just 100 companies have been the source of over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The suffering of millions around the globe is caused by only a handful of corporations and individuals, and we cannot rely on the market and businesses to regulate themselves.

Our leaders must stop subsidising the dying fossil fuel industry, switch that stimulus to renewable energy, and use fiscal and monetary tools to phase out carbon. Companies must be held accountable for their emissions and human rights violations by thorough regulation and transparency.

Governments are in a unique position to shape the world’s economies and the rules that govern the private sector, and they cannot squander this golden opportunity. Some of the rewards of climate action may not be felt until 2070, depending on the region, but our leaders must view their investments with long-term ambition. This is not a zero-sum game – everyone will reap the benefits from “whole of society” action.

The future ahead

Deloitte’s report says we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take action, but in reality, this is our only opportunity to avoid climate catastrophe – the chance will not come again.

Every day, people are dying of extreme heat, families are forced from their homes, jobs and livelihoods are lost, and children fear for their futures. It is clear that the human and economic cost of climate breakdown will be insurmountable. Now, we must recognise climate action not as a cost, but as the greatest investment in human history.

Steve Trent, founder and chief executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation

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