UC Berkeley study finds climate change may lead to significant increases in mortality

Infographic showing the predicted effects of climate change
Nada Lamie/Staff

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A study led by campus co-director of the Climate Impact Lab Solomon Hsiang predicts that, without further intervention, global mortality rates resulting from climate change could reach the average mortality rate of all infectious diseases combined by 2100.

Climate change will have a greater impact on mortality in poorer regions, according to the study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Aug. 3. The Climate Impact Lab researches the economic and social costs of climate change with the aim of creating a “granular and globally comprehensive” estimation for the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to Andy Hultgren, co-author and doctoral fellow in the campus Global Policy Lab.

The study projected that by 2100, the effects of climate change could increase the annual mortality rate by 73 deaths for every 100,000 people.

“This is going to be a substantial contributor to the global burden of disease in the future if we don’t do anything to limit the effects,” said Amir Jina, co-author and assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago.

Jina said the mortality rate could be lowered by 85% with mitigation efforts that are greater than those outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The team calculated that solely based on its mortality impacts, every ton of carbon dioxide emitted costs current and future generations $36.60.

“When you think about taking policy action — coordinated policy action on climate change — having some sense of what the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions are is an important ingredient,” Hultgren said.

In wealthier regions, climate change has a less negative impact in large part because the people in those areas can afford better infrastructure and other adaptations such as air conditioning.

In poorer countries, however, people likely cannot afford to pay for such adaptations, so they pay with their lives instead, Jina said.

“The average effect for the world is bad, but that average masks that what we’re talking about is not some global average change,” Jina said. “This is something which looks much worse for people who are already disadvantaged, and also for people who did the least to cause climate change.”

The study also found that those in hotter climates will be more negatively impacted by climate change.

Hultgren pointed out that wealthy people tend to live in colder regions, so temperature increases could actually benefit them since there will be fewer deaths from extremely cold temperatures.

This paper is the first of many on the impacts of climate change that the lab will publish in the coming years, according to Jina. He added that it is currently wrapping up research related to energy demand.

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.