'Risky Business' report: Climate change inaction will cost US billions

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, billionaire Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warn in a new report that rising sea levels, increasing storm surges and warmer temperatures will cost the U.S. billions if little action is taken to mitigate climate change.

Paulson, Steyer and Bloomberg head the climate change initiative Risky Business, which released the report Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Climate change is the existential issue of our age — it is cumulative and irreversible, and its impacts are potentially catastrophic and pose enormous threats to our country’s economic and fiscal health," said Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, and a member of Risky Business.

The report concludes that, in the next 15 years, higher sea levels and storm surges will increase the cost of damages along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion a year.

All together, the report states, coastal storms and hurricanes will cost $35 billion annually.

"[The report] shows us that our economy is vulnerable to an overwhelming number of risks from climate change,” Paulson said in a statement Tuesday. “These risks include the potential for significant federal budget liabilities, since many businesses and property owners turn to the federal government as the insurer of last resort."

Steyer boasted the financial assessment of climate change as the first of its kind. Members of the group consist of a bipartisan group of former cabinet officials, lawmakers, business leaders, and scientists. 

The report, which was conducted by the economic research firm Rhodium Group and Risk Management Solutions, the largest catastrophe-modeling company in world, combines peer-reviewed climate science projections to estimate the financial implications.

The report goes further in tracking the price of increasingly extreme weather. By 2050, it estimates between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of existing coastal property will be below sea level nationwide.

That will increase to between $238 billion and $507 billion worth of property below sea level by the end of the century, according to the report.

In the Southwest, Southeast and upper Midwest, the report estimates the average resident will see 27-50 days that will reach temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit each year. 

Increasing temperatures will reduce labor productivity across the U.S. in the construction, utility maintenance, landscaping and agriculture sectors by as much as 3 percent.

Member of Risky Business and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros warned developers, builders and community leaders to heed the risks of climate change.

"Many more will face tough choices about whether to rebuild or relocate. And many industries that rely on outdoor labor will need to think hard about how to minimize the risk that extreme heat poses to their workers," Cisneros said in a statement Tuesday.

Steyer and Paulson will share the findings of the report with White House leadership on Wednesday.

It advises business leaders, communities and the federal government to harden and relocate critical infrastructure. It also encourages companies to disclose their potential exposure to climate change risks, and potential costs.

The report comes out as the White House is marking the one-year anniversary of President Obama's Georgetown speech in which he unveiled his second-term climate change agenda.

Paulson, who served under former President George W. Bush, is just one of a growing number of Republicans who served under former presidents to come forward in defense of climate policies, urging current Republican lawmakers to join the fight.

However, climate change remains a divisive issue on Capitol Hill, as Senate Republicans this week are pressing for a vote on a measure that would derail Obama's climate rule reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants.

But the members of Risky Business are hopeful their report will not fall on deaf ears.

"From a business perspective, given the many benefits of early action, it would be silly to allow these risks to accumulate to the point where we can no longer manage them," Steyer said.