What would climate policies look like if they mirrored the COVID-19 response?

According to a new report supported by EIT Climate-KIC, by acting on climate change now, the cost of saving a life would be two to three times lower than saving a life during the pandemic. The report from the 2° Investing Initiative (2DII) programme, 1in1000, also shows policymakers’ continued lack of action on climate change essentially discounts future lives by an estimated 1.7 per cent annually, implying that a life in 2050 is worth 39 per cent less than a life today.

The report, “The value of life: What would climate policies look like if they mirrored the COVID-19 response,” is part of a series of ‘thought experiments’ by 2DII and comes on the heels of its recent research with the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group, University of Oxford, which found that the financial sector could face $150 billion per year in additional losses when climate action by companies is delayed.

“The value of life: What would climate policies look like if they mirrored the COVID-19 response” uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a case report and applies lessons from government response to the pandemic to the climate crisis and related potential policy measures. While COVID-19 and climate change are not perfectly analogous, they share two key similarities: Their systemic impact on economic systems and society, and their preventability. Critically, human actions can significantly mitigate the impacts of both the pandemic and climate change – by preventing the risk from materialising in the first place, as well as by strengthening resilience when the risk materialises.

This analysis is the first of its kind, bringing together different research on the costs of pandemic preparedness, climate policy interventions and potential benefits measured in statistically saved lives.

 

Key questions explored:

  • What are the relative costs of preparing now versus reacting later to systemic crises like pandemics or climate change?
  • How equitable is the related burden sharing of these costs?
  • What were the relative costs of saving a life in the pandemic versus the estimated relative costs of saving a life by mitigating the climate crisis?
  • What does policymakers’ willingness to prevent a statistical death today tell us about how they value current and future global climate mortalities?

 

Key takeaways:

  • For both COVID-19 and climate change, a preparedness strategy (i.e., to prevent a risk from materialising) is about three to four times cheaper in terms of lives saved than a reactive strategy.
  • The costs of preparedness measures are more evenly distributed among society than the costs of reactive measures.
  • For the COVID-19 pandemic, a preparedness strategy came too late – but it is not too late for the climate crisis. By acting now on climate change, the cost of saving a life would be two to three times lower than what it cost during the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting the significant cost effectiveness and utility of being prepared.
  • Because current policies as outlined in the Nationally Determined Contributions fall short of the Paris Agreement climate goals, this suggests that policymakers de facto discount future lives by an estimated 1.7 per cent annually. According to their revealed preferences, this means that a life in 2050 is worth 39 per cent less than a life today.

 

Proposed solutions:

  • Steering policymakers’ incentives towards the future
  • Bringing the future into today’s decision-making frameworks
  • Taking the preferences of future generations into account

 

“The value of life: What would climate policies look like if they mirrored the COVID-19 response” is available online:

Read the full report

 
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