Bill Gates Warns Climate Change Economic Impact Could be Worse than Covid-19

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“Today the greatest risk of a global catastrophe doesn’t look like this (a nuclear war), but like this (a microbe),” said Bill Gates in 2015 during a Ted talk titled “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”.

Five years later, this warning from the Microsoft co-founder seems like a forecast of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis that has brought the entire world on its knees.

Now, Gates has penned down a similar warning on climate change.

In a blog post titled “COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse”, Gates writes about the fatal impact of climate change on global economy as well as human lives and stresses on the need to accelerate corrective actions towards it.

Drawing analogy between Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, he warns that impact of latter could be worse in the long run. “If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time,” he stated.

But how? He begins by explaining that lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 virus have reduced emission of greenhouse gases by 8 per cent. This is good news for fighting climate change as the same rate of decrease every year, though very difficult to maintain as per Gates, will put the world in great shape. But the ugly truth is that to achieve this reduction, tens and millions are out of work.  

“These reductions are being achieved at, literally, the greatest possible cost,” he said.

He elaborates further by explaining what it costs to avert a single ton of greenhouse gases. As per economists, by using a technology that costs USD 1 million and lets you avert the release of 10,000 tons of gas, you’re paying USD 100 per ton of carbon averted. Now, if Covid-19 shutdowns are to be treated as carbon-reduction strategies, closing off major parts of the economy has not avoided emissions at anything close to USD 100 per ton.

In the United States, according to data from the Rhodium Group, it comes to between USD 3,200 and USD 5,400 per ton while in the European Union, it’s roughly the same amount, reveals the blogpost. “In other words, the shutdown is reducing emissions at a cost between 32 and 54 times the USD 100 per ton that economists consider a reasonable price,” said Gates.

“In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years. And by the end of the century, it will be much worse if the world remains on its current emissions path.”

Climate Change Fatalities Could Exceed Covid-19

Not just economic misery but the loss of life caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if world’s carbon emissions are not eliminated, as per the blogpost.

 “Because we want to compare events that happen at different points in time—the pandemic in 2020 and climate change in, say, 2060—and the global population will change in that time, we can’t compare the absolute numbers of deaths. Instead we will use the death rate: that is, the number of deaths per 100,000 people,” Gates explains.

The current death rate globally from Covid-19 stands at 14 per 1 lakh people. For the purpose of comparison, Gates said rise in global temperatures is projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount—14 deaths per 1 lakh—in the next 40 years. By extrapolating the same trend, by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly.

Take a Leaf Out of Covid-19 Book to Approach Climate Change

Gates stresses that we need to apply learnings from the Covid-19 response to climate change. It will not only inform us more about the consequences of inaction but also help be more prepared to save lives and prevent the worst possible outcome.

“The current global crisis can inform our response to the next one,” he said.

He suggests three key steps in this direction:

Science and innovation for reducing emissions: The small decline in emissions this year has underlined the fact that we cannot get to zero emissions by flying and driving less. We need to devise new tools for fighting climate change, which includes zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm, and move people and goods around the world, Gates said.

“Climate science tells us why we need to deal with this problem, but not how to deal with it. For that, we’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering, and other sciences.”

Solutions should be usable in poor countries also: Quoting a study by Climate Impact Lab, Gates said the overall average death rate will obscure an enormous disparity between rich and poor countries. This is particularly true for poor countries, which do the least to cause emissions, near or below the Equator, where the weather will get relatively hotter and more unpredictable.

First, Gates suggests that clean sources of energy need to be cheap for the middle- and low-income countries to buy. “These nations are looking to grow their economies by building factories and call centers; if this growth is powered by fossil fuels—which are now the most economical option by far—it will be even harder to get to zero emissions.”

Second, as there are no public or private organizations dedicated towards making clean energy accessible to poor countries, governments, inventors and entrepreneurs around the world need to focus on making green technologies that are also affordable for these countries.

Start now: Since there is no quick fix for climate change, as opposed to Covid-19 that is expected to get a vaccine by 2021, the process to tackle the crisis should begin now. It will take decades to develop and deploy all the clean-energy inventions we need, as per Gates.

“Health advocates said for years that a pandemic was virtually inevitable. The world did not do enough to prepare, and now we are trying to make up for lost time. This is a cautionary tale for climate change, and it points us toward a better approach. If we start now, tap into the power of science and innovation, and ensure that solutions work for the poorest, we can avoid making the same mistake with climate change,” the billionaire philanthropist concluded.



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