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Climate change costs aren't just long-term

Jun 5, 2009 - Thomas Kostigen - First Enercast Financial

While many cite climate change's long-term costs and problems down the road, it will claim 300,000 lives and cost $125 billion this year alone.

That's the finding of a new study from the Global Humanitarian Forum, which says 300 million people around the world now face serious effects from climate change.

The study is the first ever to focus exclusively on the human impact of climate change in the here and now. Rather than focusing on polar bears, ice caps or forests, the report, titled "Anatomy of a Silent Crisis," focuses on the impacts it has on money and people.

We often hear about the predicted doom - by 2025, 2050 or 2100. But climate change today can be traced to increased displacement of people, resulting in more refugees, scarcity of food and higher malnutrition rates. There also is increased population concentration, resulting in more disease.

Kofi Annan, who heads the Global Humanitarian Forum, says, "Climate change is a silent human crisis. Yet it is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time. Already today, it causes suffering to hundreds of millions of people, most of whom are not even aware that they are victims of climate change.

"We need an international agreement to contain climate change and reduce its widespread suffering," Annan says. "Despite its dangerous impact, climate change is a neglected area of research since much of the debate has focused on the long-term physical effects."

Economic losses due to climate change already equate to more than the individual gross domestic products of 73% of the world's countries, or greater than the total amount of aid that currently flows from industrialized countries to developing nations each year. By 2030, the economic losses due to climate change will have almost trebled to $340 billion annually, the report says.

Shareholders and businesses are waking up to the economic fallout from climate change and are worried - very worried.

"Corporate climate disclosure falls far short of what CalPERS and other investors need to carry out their fiduciary duties," said Anne Stausboll, chief executive officer of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension fund and one of 18 investors that has petitioned the SEC to issue climate disclosure guidance.

"We call on the SEC to ensure that information regarding climate-change effects, including regulatory and physical impacts, are accessible and delivered to investors," Stausboll said.

Climate change-related disclosures continue to be weak or altogether nonexistent in SEC filings of companies with the most at stake in preparing for a low-carbon global economy, according to a new study by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists.

Commenting about the Ceres study, Beth Young, senior research associate at The Corporate Library, says, "While disclosure among companies with high exposure to climate risk is increasing incrementally, the vast majority of companies in this study have still not quantified for investors key impacts to their business.

"Companies in certain industries like utilities have disclosed qualitative information on regulatory risks related to climate change," Young says, "but very few of the 100 companies studied disclosed the physical risks, business risks and litigation risks they face."

Still, says nearly 10,000 small-business leaders nationwide have signed a statement urging the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to support strong climate and energy policies such as the Waxman-Markey bill now before the House.

These trends and activism point toward a need to do something about climate change - right now. It's high time we stopped putting climate change in the context of some future date.

The only reason that it's not being done is there has been scant evidence of climate change disseminated that would really make people sit up and listen to the consequences of our actions. Talk about major cities being flooded, massive displacement and increased deaths, and people suddenly pay attention.

We don't have to look into the crystal ball anymore; we can look out the window. The Waxman-Markey bill should pass, and businesses should heed calls by investors for action on climate change.

Forget about the rhetoric of leaving the planet a better place for our children and grandchildren. How about preserving the planet for us?

(Thomas M. Kostigen is a freelancer for MarketWatch. He can be reached at 415-439-6400 or via email at


Updated: 2016/06/30

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