NEW YORK -- Global warming will account for a 3.2 percent dip in world gross domestic product by 2030 and kill more than 100 million people along the way if nothing is done to stop it, according to a report commissioned by 20 nations that fear an existential threat from climate change.
The report, from DARA, a humanitarian organization based in Madrid, warns that 4.9 million deaths are already caused each year by the carbon-based economy, with that number bound to rise as fossil fuel use and severe weather events continue to increase.
Of those, 400,000 deaths each year are attributable to hunger and diseases aggravated by the warming climate, while 4.6 million are linked to air pollution, DARA said. Those numbers are set to jump as temperatures rise within a 2- to 4-degree-Celsius range many scientists predict, the group claimed.
DARA painted an equally dire economic picture during a daylong rollout here at the Asia Society. Failure to stem greenhouse gas emissions will be most heavily felt in China, which is looking at losses of $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years in its efforts to adapt.
Closely tracking the sleeping giant are the United States and India, which DARA says will lose 2 percent and 5 percent of their GDP, respectively, by 2030, to deal with weather disasters, crumbling infrastructure, migration and other consequences the group links to fossil fuel use and climate change.
Most of the estimated 100 million deaths would occur in developing nations, many of them in the 20 countries that commissioned the report. Those countries call themselves the Climate Vulnerable Forum and include low-lying nations like Bangladesh, the Maldives, Costa Rica, Kiribati, Ghana, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Impacts worst in poorer nations
The economic and health challenges those countries face include less tourism dollars, crop loss, dwindling access to water, disease brought by new pathogens and old viruses, habitat destruction, drought and general poverty.
A 1-degree-Celsius rise will mean a 10 percent loss in productivity in Bangladesh, for instance. DARA officials explained that means the loss of 4 million metric tons of food grain, at a value of $2.5 billion, in that country alone.
"Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3 to 4 percent of GDP. Without these losses, we could have easily secured much higher growth," said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who led the report's release and presentation here.
Another key figure in putting together the study, former President of Costa Rica Jose Maria Figueres, said the crucial finding is that climate change already holds back global development and is a significant cost to all economies, both developing and developed. In 2010, he said, climate change sucked 1 percent of the world's GDP, or $700 billion, which he said bumps up to $1.2 trillion that year if you consider the carbon-based economy.
"This is the most comprehensive assessment yet made public on the current impacts of climate change," he said, adding that an economic opportunity exists to get the world off old fuels and mobilize new economies to build systems run by renewable sources of energy.
"We could make this a tremendous win-win opportunity," he said. "There is no Planet B. This is the one we have."
Critics see other ways to reduce poverty
Critics slammed the report as generalized and inaccurate in its assumptions that so many deaths are linked to warming.
Frank Maisano, a senior principal at Bracewell and Giuliani, said the study demonstrates why "nobody believes the environmental community half the time."
"It doesn't take into account the lifestyle issues that are improved by quality and affordable electricity," he said. "Part of the problem with these reports is they're so overly general that they're just not reliable."
Maisano added that, in his view, improving water supplies and building reliable electricity are better ways to address poverty in the developing world than enforcing carbon cuts or imposing expensive solar plants. That line of argument closely tracks the view of Bjorn Lomborg, the so-called skeptical environmentalist and author who has long been critical of the United Nations' approach to poverty and sustainability.
In a Newsweek article published just before the United Nations' Rio+20 Earth Summit this summer, Lomborg said "the U.N.'s concern for 'green' issues has moved ever closer to the fashionable concerns of rich Westerners and away from the legitimate concerns of the overwhelming majority of the Earth's people."
Lomborg's point is that the way to avoid deaths caused by poverty and disease is to improve local conditions and spend money to do so. Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, took up the same point in his critique of the DARA document.
"Most of the negative effects identified and quantified in the report have nothing to do with global warming or even bad weather," he said. "For example, the biggest killer is indoor air pollution," he added, in reference to the widespread use of open, indoor fires to cook in poor regions.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 2 million people died prematurely in 2011 from illness caused by burning solid fuels indoors. WHO estimates that almost 3 billion people still cook this way, most of them in poor countries. Ebell said that point alone shows that the group behind the vulnerability study is engaged in hyperbole to attract attention.
Marshall Institute CEO William O'Keefe took up a similar line, saying DARA has ignored that most death and disease in the developing world is caused by inadequate nutrition, lack of potable water and insufficient energy access.
A 'cold calculus' of future vulnerability?
The editor of the DARA report, Matthew McKinnon, defended the study -- dubbed the Climate Vulnerability Monitor -- during a presentation here, calling it "a cold-hearted monetary analysis." Within the study, he wrote that it represents an original analysis meant to synthesize "the latest research and scientific information on the global impact of climate change and the carbon economy."
McKinnon explained that his group hoped, in part, to quantify an expected increase in fossil fuels over the next 20 years.
"This is what we analyzed in this report," he said. "This is the cold calculus."
The rollout of the report, timed to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly, also came complete with appearances by several heads of state as well as international experts brought together to discuss its implications. In addition to Sheikh Hasina, the presidents of the Maldives and Kiribati attended. Also on-site were several foreign ministers, as well as officials from the World Bank, environmental groups, the bank HSBC and the United Nations.
Dipu Moni, foreign minister of Bangladesh, urged investors to help her country and others on the front line of climate change. She said the effects of warming "constitute violations of the rights for our people."
"The Green Climate Fund is still an empty box," she said of the U.N. fund set up in Mexico in 2010 to help smaller nations. "We have yet to see any clearing on its operation."
Her comments referred to the still-empty reality of the fund, which has yet to settle key management issues (ClimateWire, Sept. 26).
World Bank sees 'moral commitment' to spread the word
Maldives President Mohamed Waheed, whose nation is threatened by sea level rise, suggested a better option might be go challenge bigger nations legally, through courts that might consider "rights of nature."
"We need to begin to look at that seriously," he said.
Patrick Verkooijen, special representative for climate change at the World Bank, said the new head of his organization -- former Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim -- has climate change at the front of his radar. Verkooijen pledged to make finance ministers aware of DARA's work.
"We have a moral commitment to bring this report to Cabinet meetings and corporate boardrooms," he said, adding that the World Bank is working in 130 countries, with climate adaptation at the center of its work. He said the World Bank doubled adaptation funds last year, to $7.2 billion.
Also speaking was Nick Robins, director of HSBC's climate change center of excellence. He acknowledged a problem in terms of attracting private dollars to developing countries, noting that investors might be justifiably wary of delivering money to assets that could soon be shut down.
"Institutional investors are charged with looking after their clients and make sure they deliver decent return," he said, before adding that "there is a lot of interest among mainstream investors in frontier and emerging economies."
Click here for DARA's Web page on its report.