Fiddling while Rome burns – the £3trn cost of climate delay

Expert warns that Doha agreement to wait until 2020 to tackle global warming is a mistake

A A A

The Doha climate summit agreement which delayed vital action to tackle global warming for another seven years will cost $5 trillion (£3.1trn) to remedy, according to research by one of the world's leading climate change scientists.

Delaying until 2020 measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions enough to give the world a fair chance of containing global warming would cost 25 per cent more than taking action to achieve the same reduction now, according to the first research to quantify the financial impact of deferring remedial measures. The increase would take the cost from $20trn if action started today to $25trn if it began in 2020, as agreed in Doha last month.

"It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change," said Dr Keywan Riahi, of the renowned International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria (IIASA), which conducted the research.

"With a 20-year delay, you can throw as much money as you have at the problem, and the best outcome you get is a 50-50 chance of keeping the temperature rise below two degrees," said Dr Riahi, a lead author of the last two influential "assessment reports" for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the next one, due out in 2014.

Most experts agree that once global warming exceeds two degrees centigrade the consequences become increasingly devastating. Last month the world's leading nations reaffirmed a goal of two degrees at the UN climate change conference in Doha and agreed to launch a co-ordinated global campaign to ensure the target was met.

However, they gave themselves until 2015 to finalise the details of the campaign and five more years to prepare for it, meaning action to combat global warming will not happen until 2020.

Dr Riahi's calculations demonstrate the costs of such a delay. The $5trn, or 25 per cent, figure represents the increase in the total cost of ensuring emissions are reduced to a level that give the world a fair – 60 per cent – chance of keeping global warming to two degrees.

This includes the cost of switching from polluting coal-fired power stations to renewable energy sources and from petrol to biofuels – as well as areas such as introducing measures to improve energy efficiency.

"Climate is a cumulative problem and so the 'headroom' with respect to the emissions that can be vented into the atmosphere in order to stay below two degrees is limited," said Dr Riahi, who calculated the cost of delay for The Independent, which he derived from research his organisation published in the journal Nature this month.

"Any lack of emissions reduction now needs to be compensated by more rapid and deeper emissions later on and this makes it more expensive ," he added.

The extra spending would be spread between 2020 and 2100, and much of will be needed by 2050, says the IIASA.

Life and Style
health
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine