The U.S. economy faces losses that may run into the hundreds of billions of dollars this century as the changing climate erodes coasts and threatens agriculture, according to a report today by a bipartisan group of political and financial leaders.
The report from the Risky Business Project urges businesses and industrial companies to curb carbon emissions in an effort to slow global warming. The initiative was spearheaded by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and billionaire investor Tom Steyer.
The group’s findings echo those of scientists, the United Nations and environmental groups, which have been issuing similar warnings with increasing urgency. Those warnings sometimes fall on deaf ears in Washington, where a significant number of elected leaders dispute the notion that the planet is warming.
The risks posed by climate change are “much more perverse and cruel than they were in the financial crisis,” Paulson said at an event in New York today. “We’re hoping that business will unite and be more active in pressing for policy change from the federal government.” Paulson was treasury secretary during the 2008 financial crisis.
The report outlines the economic risks posed by climate change to the U.S., including extreme weather effects like hurricanes and rising sea levels that jeopardize more than $1.4 trillion in coastal real estate.
Storms, flooding, drought, heat waves and other weather events are already costing local economies billions of dollars, said Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York when it was hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Climate change has become too big a threat to ignore, he said.
“Businesses and investors have largely been kept in the dark about how climate change will impact specific industries or specific regions,” Bloomberg said at the event. “That puts America’s businesses and the American economy in an extremely vulnerable position.”
The Risky Business Project also included former treasury secretaries George Shultz and Robert Rubin, past Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, Cargill Inc. Executive Chairman Gregory Page and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros.
Creating consensus and sustaining attention on climate change is difficult, yet essential for businesses making long-range plans, Page said in an interview. For agriculture, some northern regions will see short-term benefits while the entire country faces longer-term problems, further complicating efforts to move public opinion toward action, he said. Even so, businesses can do much to adapt to and mitigate weather shifts without government action.
“It’s arrogant to do nothing,” Page said. “A big focus of our comments and our participation was to make sure that the message that went out to the world is there are a lot of things that can be done.”
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