There’s really no good reason to wait to tackle the climate crisis, but especially when it comes to money. A new report offers yet more proof that the longer we wait, the higher that cost will be.
The financial difference could prove to be massive. The analysis shows that starting to decarbonize now would cost $320 billion per year or a total of $4.5 trillion. Waiting until 2030 will mean the costs of reaching net-zero by 2050 would be $750 billion. This is for each year, or about $8 trillion by 2050 when all is said and done. That means the cumulative cost associated with putting off decarbonizing until 2030 is 72% higher than the cost of getting the ball rolling now.
“To meet climate goals, it is imperative to start climate action today”. Megan Mahajan, one of the co-authors and a senior policy analyst on the Energy Policy Solution team, said in an email.
“In particular, it is urgent to quickly transition to electric vehicles. And build components, because polluting equipment sold today will last for decades. And transitioning to clean sources of electricity as rapidly as possible becomes even more important as vehicles and buildings increasingly rely on electricity rather than fossil fuels.”
What the authors used to arrive at the conclusion
The authors used Energy Innovation’s open-source Energy Policy Simulator. This is a peer-reviewed model that estimates the impacts of climate and energy policies. In the 2021 scenario, the policies the authors plugged in include a clean energy standard that reaches 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2050, 100% electric vehicle standards for light-duty vehicles by 2035, and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045, and building efficiency improvements ranging from 11%-40% by 2050.
The 2030 scenario, the study says, “necessarily requires steeper emissions reductions to achieve the same cumulative abatement”. That’s because if the U.S. keeps emitting greenhouse gases, more urgent action will be needed to stave off extreme heating. Waiting a decade, for instance, would mean transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2040. This is instead of 2050 due to the pollution that piled up in the atmosphere over the course of the 2020s. It would also require constructing nine times more clean energy capacity per year by the mid-2030s.
Procrastinating will also lead to the need to develop technology to capture carbon directly out of the air. This is extremely expensive and currently unproven to work at scale.
Countries are still allowing the build-out of oil- and gas-fired power plants. This means the 2030 scenario will also create more costs.
This is due to stranded assets and the need to wind down more equipment. Especially before the end of its expected lifespan.
“The accelerated transition will create a global economic shock,” the authors say.
What continued pollution will result into
The report doesn’t even get into the costs that come with extreme weather, which delayed climate action could make even worse. A recent report found that last year, the U.S. saw record 22 disasters that cost $1 billion or more. That number is sure to increase as the climate crisis worsens.
The results, which follows other scientific reports on the cost of delaying climate action, has a clear message for policymakers. Between building new energy sources, taking old power plants offline, decarbonizing the housing sector, and transitioning away from fossil-powered cars, the U.S. will need to spend billions. But it needs to get started now. To avert the climate crisis, countries need to act and fast.
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