Greens: Climate change to add up to $60 billion to wildfire costs

Wildfires already cost the United States as much as $125 billion, but climate change could add up to $60 billion to the bill by 2050, environmentalists say.

The added cost is due to an increase in the area that wildfires burn, by 50 percent to 100 percent, the environmental groups said in a Tuesday report.

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“Wildfires that already destroy millions of acres of forests and thousands of homes will cause much more damage if we don’t take strong steps to reduce the carbon pollution driving climate change,” Laurie Johnson, the chief economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement.

“We’re losing time but not solutions to this grave threat, and we must act now,” she said.

NRDC prepared the report along with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity.

The report goes on to argue that the addition costs of wildfires should be included in the “social cost of carbon,” the federal government’s official guidelines for determining the economic cost of carbon dioxide emissions and the benefits of cutting pollution.

The government’s carbon accounting already includes the impacts of carbon to health and agriculture, but doesn’t include wildfires. As climate change intensifies and fire seasons get longer, it makes sense to include wildfires in the cost estimates, the groups said.

“Increasing bills for wildfire damage are just one example of how much climate inaction will cost us,” Gernot Wagner, EDF’s lead senior economist, said in a statement. “The public has to pick up the tab after the weather disasters that we’ll see more frequently because of climate change. We need to fully assess climate risks so we can make good public policy decisions.”

As the costs of wildfires increase, President Obama has asked Congress to change the way money is spent to fight wildfires on federal land, so that agencies do not have to dip into budgets for preventive measures in order to cover increased costs.