Good For Environment, Good For Your Wallet: Report Claims Fighting Emissions Builds Healthy Economy

Not only will it lead to more costly and catastrophic events like wildfires, droughts, and floods, but delaying action on climate change will in and of itself constitute a missed opportunity to bolster the US economy, according to a new report.

Entitled “Seeing Is Believing: Creating A New Climate Economy In The United States,” the report notes that failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions will result in a 20% reduction in per capita consumption worldwide over the long term, but stresses that addressing climate change will most certainly be good for the global economy.

Published by the World Resources Institute, the report looks at needed changes in five sectors of the US economy that, altogether, comprised 55% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2012: reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation; improving efficiency in residential and commercial electricity consumption; building more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles; stopping methane leaks from natural gas systems; and lowering consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas commonly used as a refrigerant.

By surveying peer-reviewed reports from academics, industry associations, think tanks, government labs, and others, the report concludes that: “The ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while benefitting the economy has already been demonstrated through numerous policies and programs implemented in the United States.”

Here are key findings from the report in each of those five areas:

  • A regional cap-and-trade initiative in nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, “will save customers nearly $1.1 billion on electricity bills and create 16,000 net job-years while adding $1.6 billion in net present economic value to the region's economy.”
  • While state energy efficiency programs have regularly saved rate payers anywhere from $2 to $5 for every dollar spent, there are many benefits above and beyond consumer savings. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, for instance, “is expected to inject over $900 million into the state's economy and net over 6,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.”
  • As a result of lower fuel costs, owners of model year 2025 cars and light trucks will save between $3,400 and $5,000 over the life of their vehicle compared to 2016 standards, while helping reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by 2 million barrels per day, reaping $3.1 to $9.2 billion in benefits from reduced greenhouse gas pollution, and creating 570,000 jobs by 2030.
  • The EPA's 2012 standards for natural gas systems will not only reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, but will also reduce methane emissions so much that they will save the natural gas industry $10 million per year by 2015. The 172,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds that will not be emitted in 2015, meanwhile, could save as much as $2,640 in health costs per metric ton.
  • The Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that took effect in 1989 and was designed to save the ozone layer by phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), is expected to have some $1.8 trillion in global health benefits and to save $460 billion in damages to agriculture and fisheries, while preventing about 11 billion in metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. A similar measure for phasing out HFCs, which became widely used after CFCs were phased out, could have similar benefits, without increasing the costs for consumers.

Of course, all of these benefits can only be realized if politicians take the necessary measures. And failing to do so will have its own costs, just as taking action will have its benefits.

As the report notes: “Delaying action will result in real costs as a result of greater warming and increased stranded high-carbon investments. A July 2014 report by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers concluded that each decade of delay will increase the costs of mitigation by 40 percent on average.”

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