Cost of CDR Inaction

Whenever the topic turns to climate restoration and mitigation, one of the first arguments that will come up is that doing something–anything–about climate change is just too expensive. We can’t afford it. “Fixing” the climate will ruin economies and impoverish people.

It’s true that climate restoration will be expensive and like anything else people do, it will not happen without setbacks and cost overruns. But doing nothing will be vastly more expensive and, what’s more, vastly more unjust and inequitable, causing disproportionate harm to those who have contributed the least to the huge mess we are in.

Putting numbers towards the cost of doing nothing is obviously somewhat speculative, and the number one ends up with depends very much on the assumptions made. But let’s look at some of the numbers out there to get a feeling for the amount of money we are talking about.

Here’s an analysis from Deloitte:


$1.5 trillion in economic losses in the last 50 years plus $14.5 trillion (in today’s dollars) over the next 50 years = $16 trillion lost over 100 years–and that’s in the US alone. By all standards that is a serious amount of money, with most of the damage still ahead of us.

Add to that the economic losses in other parts of the world (in 2020 the US accounted for around 15% of the global GDP) and we are looking at numbers so large, they are incomprehensible (if you must know: about $106 trillion.)

Spending a few trillion on mitigation looks like a bargain compared to these numbers.

Now let’s look at what a company whose business it is to assess risk has to say. Swiss Re is a large reinsurance company–in other words, an insurance company for insurance companies. Here’s their assessment:


The report mentioned in the quote can be found here.

One last source looks at it yet another way. A study by the University College of London considers the cost per ton of carbon pollution–an interesting way of thinking about it which makes it easy to compare and contrast it with the cost of removing one ton of CO2.


If the cost of one ton of carbon pollution is “in the hundreds of dollars” then removing a ton at a cost of say $200 (or even more) makes economic sense. The study referenced in the quote can be found here.