US to be hit worse than almost any other country by climate change, report says

India and Saudi Arabia are the other two nations set to be hit hardest, new report says

Andrew Griffin
Monday 24 September 2018 16:43 BST
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Louise Thomas

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The US will be hit harder than almost any other country by climate change, according to a major new report.

The research is the first time that researchers have developed a reliable set of data that allows each country to know just how much economic damage will be done by carbon dioxide emissions. And the surprising results show that considerable damage could be done to some of the world's greatest powers.

The three countries set to lose the most from climate change are United States, India and Saudi Arabia, according to the new research. The findings rely on measuring the social cost of carbon, in an attempt to understand how much is lost through climate emissions.

And it also found that the damage being done worldwide by those emissions is significantly higher than in estimates used by authorities including the US government.

The social cost of carbon is a measure designed to take into account the full price that harmful emissions have to the economy. Often, politicians and companies argue that the cost is relatively minimal – it doesn't hurt the environment in any immediate way, and could initially benefit the economy through increased crop yield in some regions – but SCC aims to take into account the full cost over time.

The measure is used, among other things, as a way to work out the true cost of policy decisions. The US Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, uses it as a way to inform decisions.

For example, policymakers often point to the fact that carbon dioxide causes little immediate harm to the economy as justification for rolling back regulations. But the new study shows that the actual impact of climate change could be much more intense than previously thought.

The Trump administration has been active in scrapping various environmental regulations, including pulling the US out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. The president did so in large part because of claims about the economy, including suggestions that global warming is a hoax created by China to punish the US.

The new study shows that the US economy in fact stands to lose considerably from climate change, despite repeated suggestions from politicians that the opposite is true.

"Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth," said lead author and University of California San Diego assistant professor Kate Ricke. "We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs.

"It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose. Still, it's surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies."

Previous analysis has largely looked at the global cost of carbon emissions. That is more easy to calculate, because carbon dioxide affects the whole world.

But the new study combines results from a series of studies and models to work out how the increase in carbon would affect individual countries. The results should serve as a warning to those countries most affected that they must do more to act together and mitigate climate change, the authors wrote.

Countries in the European Union, for instance, have been among those keenest and most active in addressing climate change, but are relatively unaffected according to the new study. Those that the study found to be most affected by carbon emissions – including India and China alongside the US – have also been less proactive in promoting new regulations to combat them, the authors noted.

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