Climate Shift Would Aid Industrial Nations, Hurt Less-Developed Ones

April 03, 1997

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A recent analysis of the economic impact of global climate change on 184 countries indicates that some countries will win while others lose -- by billions of dollars per year -- a University of Illinois professor says.

"Our analysis shows that developed countries -- the primary emitters of carbon dioxide -- would benefit by $82 billion per year, while underdeveloped countries would suffer by $40 billion per year," said Michael Schlesinger, a U. of I. atmospheric scientist. "This disparity in market impacts could make international agreement on climate-change policy much more difficult."

The study -- the first of its kind -- was performed by Schlesinger and colleagues Natalia Andronova at the U. of I., Robert Mendelsohn at Yale University and Wendy Morrison at Middlebury College. Schlesinger presented the group's findings March 11 at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Tokyo.

In their analysis, the researchers assumed a 2 degree Celsius increase in global mean temperature -- the amount of warming expected to occur by the year 2060. Geographical distributions of temperature and precipitation changes simulated by a U. of I. general circulation model for increased carbon dioxide concentrations were used to determine country-specific annual temperature and precipitation changes. These changes then were combined with economic data on agriculture, forestry, coastal resources, energy and tourism to calculate potential market impacts for each of the 184 countries.

"Clearly, some countries will be big winners and others will be large losers," Schlesinger said. "For example, Canada, the former Soviet Union and the United States would receive annual benefits of $31 billion, $39 billion and $22 billion, respectively, while Brazil, India and Mexico would lose $14 billion, $22 billion and $8 billion per year, respectively."

Countries that would suffer the most from global warming are island nations, Schlesinger said. "These countries have long coast lines, sensitive tourism industries and small, undeveloped economies."

Among continents, Europe and North America would benefit, while the others, including Australia, would suffer, Schlesinger said. "But, there are important exceptions among countries within continents. For example, although Asia would lose from global warming, China would gain. And, although Europe and North America would gain from global warming, Spain, Portugal and Mexico would all suffer."

While the recent study provides a useful measure of potential climate-change impact on a country-by-country basis, there is much more work to be done, Schlesinger said. "Natural variability in the climate system may be of more importance to certain impacts than the changes in the average temperature and precipitation. In agriculture, for example, the frequency of frosts, droughts or severe thunderstorms has a tremendous impact that is not yet captured in our analysis. Also, the non-market impacts may turn out to be more important than the market impacts. So this is not the end of the story."
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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