Story at a glance

  • The metric is based on temperature-related mortality, which means deaths that occur as a result of weather events like heat waves, such as heat stroke.
  • Researchers estimate that for every 4,434 tons of CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere beyond the 2020 rate of emissions, one person globally will die by the end of the century.
  • The metric assumes the Earth will experience a warming of 4.1 degrees Celsius by 2100.

A new study estimates climate change would cause 83 million excess deaths globally by the end of the century due to rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. 

The study published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications coined the term “mortality cost of carbon” to describe how many lives will be lost or saved depending on whether current carbon emissions increase or decrease over the next several decades. 

The research analyzes more recent climate data and public health studies than previous metrics that calculate the “social cost” of carbon. 

“Based on the decisions made by individuals, businesses or governments, this tells you how many lives will be lost, or saved,” Daniel Bressler, from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and author of the study, said in a statement

“It quantifies the mortality impact of those decisions. It brings this question down to a more personal, understandable level,” Bressler added. 

The metric is based on temperature-related mortality, which are deaths that occur as a result of weather events like heat waves, such as heat stroke. 


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It leaves out climate-related deaths resulting from storms, floods, crop failures, infectious diseases or wars, noting the forecast could in fact “be a vast underestimate.” 

Researchers estimate that for every 4,434 tons of CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere beyond the 2020 rate of emissions, one person globally will die from a temperature-related event by the end of the century. The 4,434 tons figure is equivalent to the current lifetime emissions of 3.5 Americans. Globally, 4,434 tons is equal the lifetime emissions of 12.8 people. 

The metric assumes the Earth will experience a warming of 4.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. Temperatures have increased by about 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era. 


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Published on Jul 30, 2021