Projected Impact Of Global Warming On Europe Negligible
Climate change activists have long warned of a bleak and impoverished future due to the ravages of global warming. But evaluating the effects of climate change in the long term is an extremely complex issue. There are no reliable, accurate predictions for future climate, demographic change, economic development, or technological progress. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that if the climate of the 2080s were to occur today, the annual loss in household welfare in the European Union (EU) would range between 0.2–1%. Furthermore, this minuscule change was derived using aggressive IPCC scenarios for temperature and sea-level rise. Regardless of the claims made by climate change doomsayers, the future is not going to suck after all.
Any impact assessment must take into account incomplete scientific methodologies, data gaps and many sources of uncertainty. In a study to appear in the January 31, 2011, issue of PNAS, Juan-Carlos Ciscar and colleagues seek to answer the question “how bad things will be if the IPCC's pessimistic projections for future climate change come true?” at least for one region. In “Physical and economic consequences of climate change in Europe,” they present an integrated assessment of the physical and economic effects of climate change in Europe. The paper's abstract frames the motivation and goals of the study:
Quantitative estimates of the economic damages of climate change usually are based on aggregate relationships linking average temperature change to loss in gross domestic product (GDP). However, there is a clear need for further detail in the regional and sectoral dimensions of impact assessments to design and prioritize adaptation strategies. New developments in regional climate modeling and physical-impact modeling in Europe allow a better exploration of those dimensions. This article quantifies the potential consequences of climate change in Europe in four market impact categories (agriculture, river floods, coastal areas, and tourism) and one nonmarket impact (human health). The methodology integrates a set of coherent, high-resolution climate change projections and physical models into an economic modeling framework.
The researchers attempted to construct a consistent methodological framework that integrates climate data, physical-impact models, and economic models. Ciscar et al. chose to modeled the economic effects of future climate change (projected for the 2080s) on the current economy as of 2010. This quasi-static approach helps simplify assumptions by not trying to figure out what the economy of Europe and the world will do over the intervening decades. Of course, it could also be argued that this assumption invalidates the study's results from the start.
A baseline scenario was run for 2010 assuming no climate change. The alternative scenario considered the influence of climate change on the economy. The results presented compare the values of welfare and GDP of the 2080 climate scenario with those of the baseline scenario. That simplification aside, the cascade of models is quite complicated, as shown in the diagram below.
The authors considered four future climate scenarios for the 2080s to better reflect the uncertainty associated with future climate predictions. Two global socioeconomic scenarios were selected from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES): the high-emission A2 scenario and the lower- emission B2 scenario (CO2 concentration of 709 ppm and 560 ppm by the end of this century, respectively). The analysis was performed in three separate stages:
- In the first stage, daily and 50-km resolution climate data are obtained from climate models.
- In the second stage, these data are used as input to run the five physical-impact models. (See the report's supplementary information for detailed explanations on the models and specific climate data input.)
- In the third stage, the physical-impact models and their associated direct economic effects are introduced into a multisectoral computable general equilibrium (CGE) model, the General Equilibrium Model for Energy-Economy-Environment Interactions (GEM-E3 Europe), which models most EU countries individually.
For each SRES scenario, climate output from two state-of-the-art regional climate models (RCMs), nested within a global climate model (GCM), were selected from the Prediction of Regional Scenarios and Uncertainties for Defining European Climate Change Risks and Effects (PRUDENCE) project. The scenarios used generated average temperature increase in Europe between 2.5°C and 5.4°C. The daily RCM output at 50-km resolution was then used used to drive the physical-impact models.
Note that these temperature ranges are among the higher projections for the IPCC reports. Unsurprisingly, these temperatures lead to exaggerated response in precipitation, sea-level rise. Even so, the results are not uniformly bad across Europe. Consider precipitation:
The regional precipitation pattern is similar in all scenarios. The Central Europe South and Southern Europe regions would experience annual decreases compared with the 1961–1990 control period, whereas most other EU regions would have positive precipitation changes in all scenarios but with large seasonal differences.
That doesn't sound like an unmitigated disaster of the kind portrayed in the news media. In fact, the not so bad impact on precipitation leads to a not so bad impact on agriculture, as described below. But how about sea-level rise? We are constantly being warned that the world's coastal cities will be submerged by rising ocean waters.
According to the IPCC, the uncertainty range of the projected SLR is wide. Given recent evidence on accelerated SLR, we consider only the high-climate-sensitivity case. This case leads to a global SLR in the range of 49–59 cm by the end of the century. The high range of SLR of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), 88 cm, also has been studied for the coastal system impact as a variant of the 5.4 °C scenario.
That seems a bit more troublesome, a half meter (1.6 ft) rise in sea-level could prove problematic for low lying regions. Remember, this is only for the “high-climate-sensitivity” case. One might even suspect a bit of pro-catastrophe bias in the selected scenarios. Even so, the results are not all that damaging. To put things in a more environmental and economic framework, the impact of these various climate change scenarios was evaluated for four broad areas of economic health: agriculture, coastline systems, river floods and tourism (yes, tourism). The results for each category and various regions in Europe are shown in the chart below.
This chart is rather hard to read but the text outlines the general findings for each of the selected impact categories. In agriculture, the dominant effects result from the projected longer growing season. Central Europe regions would experience moderate changes in yield while a group of countries—Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands—may be at risk if limitations on the use of fertilizers in agriculture are implemented. In all scenarios Northern Europe would benefit from positive yield changes, and, to a lesser extent, the British Isles would benefit in the 4.1 °C and 5.4 °C scenarios. Only under the 5.4 °C scenario would Southern Europe experience yield losses about, perhaps as high as 25%.
Flood damages and people affected are projected to increase across much of Western Europe, the British Isles, and the Central Europe regions, affecting as many as 250,000 more people. They project that monetary damages will double to around €15 billion. Decreases in flood damage are projected consistently for northeastern parts of Europe because of a reduction in spring snowmelt floods. This is with “no growth in exposed values and population or adjustments of current flood protection standards.”
In calculating sea-level rise the total number affected varies widely. Northern and Southern Europe are the areas projected to be most affected by coastal floods. “However, when adaptation (dikes and beach nourishment) is taken into account, the number of people potentially exposed to floods is reduced significantly,” state the authors. This is evidently the application of existing technology, not “improved” technology, and hence permissible under the study guidelines. The economic costs to people who might migrate because of coastal flooding also increases substantially under the assumed high rate of SLR, assuming no adaptation. But again, “when adaptation measures are implemented, this displacement of people becomes a minor impact.”
In terms of the impact on tourism, the longer warm season again actually helps most of Europe. Only Southern Europe might suffer big losses. Elsewhere, however, things are actually better. “In all climate scenarios there would be additional expenditures, with a relatively small EU-wide positive impact of €4–18 billion, depending on the scenario and climate model used,” the authors conclude. Extra expense but rising profits, not a bad trade off.
And there you have it—minimal down side and moderate upside across most of the EU. Finally, the study attempts to translate all of the various impacts into a single monetary result. Viewed from an overall economic perspective—reduction of GDP—the results are summarized in the figure below:
Southern Europe is hurt the most, Central Europe not as much, Britain pretty much breaks even, and Northern Europe comes out ahead. Looks like, if you believe in global warming, the smart money will be investing in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Bottom line, Ciscar et al. conclude: “We find that if the climate of the 2080s were to occur today, the annual loss in household welfare in the European Union (EU) resulting from the four market impacts would range between 0.2–1%.”
To put that into perspective, the average yearly income of an EU resident is around €24,000 ($33,000) according to the US Central Intelligence Agency. This means that the impact on individuals would range from €48 to €240 ($66–330) a year. Remember, this is without any added economic growth, or improved technology. The assumption is that people in the EU will be no better off in 70 years than they are today.
This study used questionable simplifying assumptions (eg. no improvements in technology, fixed economic conditions), and started with climate and sea-level rise projections from some of the more aggressive IPCC scenarios. This effectively biased the analysis by enhancing the negative impact of global warming.
Bias not withstanding, in the end the impact turns out to be negligible, costing the average citizen no more than a dinner for two in a nice restaurant or an overnight stay in an upscale hotel. This study sends a message, and that message is simple: global warming, if it takes place at all, will hardly be noticed.
be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.
Who says global warming is a bad thing?