Climate Change and the Global Economy: Is the South Doomed?

This week negotiators are wrapping up the most important U.N. climate meeting since Copenhagen. In the lead-up to these meetings, almost every country on earth submitted a plan for how they will reduce their emissions.

These pledges, while better than nothing, fall far short of what almost every expert says we need, and put us on a path to most likely warm the planet by about 3.5 degrees Celsius (about 6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.

Why should we try to avoid such a future? There are many reasons, but one of the more surprising ones I came across recently was from a research paper by Marshall Burke, Solomon Hsiang, and Edward Miguel, recently published in Science. Burke, Hsiang, and Miguel analyzed how the economy of each country, over the past 50 years, had responded to slight changes in the annual average temperature.

Basically, they found that there is an optimal temperature for economic activity, and when it is warmer or colder than this temperature, people are less productive. I encourage you to read more about the findings of this paper (read Marshall Burke’s website, a blog post by Dr. Burke, or news coverage of the paper). In some ways, these findings actually aren’t too surprising — I do less work when it is hot out.

I worked with these professors to help them build an interactive map showing the results of their paper (which you can see here), and I modified the map to display on the blog below. Click on a country to see what they predict the effects of climate change will be on each country’s economy.

The results are depressing. The global “south,” which is already much poorer than the north, will fall farther behind in this scenario, as warmer temperatures will suppress their economic growth more than temperate nations. In fact, cold nations, such as Canada and Norway may see a benefit.

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