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Smokestacks in China. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The costs of keeping global warming below 1.5°C would exceed the economic benefits up through the year 2100, according to a new study.

Why it matters: One of the biggest challenges to climate action is time delay: we need to pay now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we won't experience the full benefits of those actions for generations into the future.

By the numbers: In the study, published in PLOS One, researchers project keeping warming below 1.5°C would result in a net loss to the global economy of approximately $40 trillion through 2100, compared to policies that would keep warming to 2°C.

  • That's because "transitioning from energy-dense fossil fuels back to more dilute and intermittent renewable sources of energy like solar and wind requires more in terms of land, human time and machinery to produce the same amount of energy," Patrick Brown, a climate scientist and a co-author of the paper, tweeted.
  • That lowers general economic well-being, which in turns tends to fall hardest on the poorest in the world.

Between the lines: By the 22nd century, however, as the potential effects of climate change continue to compound, the benefits of stronger climate action begin to exceed the economic costs.

  • By 2300, the researchers calculate the net benefits would reach thousands of trillions of dollars.

The big picture: Because CO2 warms the atmosphere for decades to centuries, there's a built in time delay to the physics of climate change that in turn reinforces political obstacles to action.

  • When we pay to reduce carbon emissions now, the full effects aren't felt until the future, which means the present generation has to sacrifice to help save the next ones.

Yes, but: The authors admit climate change will have major costs that are difficult to fit into an economic model, like widespread biodiversity loss, while cutting carbon emissions could have more immediate co-benefits beyond climate change, like reducing toxic levels of air pollution.

The bottom line: There are many reasons why climate change is considered a wicked problem, but its time delay is one of the wickedest.

Go deeper

Biden outlines plan to reverse Trump policies on first day of presidency

President-elect Joe Biden at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will roll back some of President Trump's most controversial policies and address "four overlapping and compounding crises" in his first 10 days in office — the pandemic, the economic downturn, climate change and racial inequity.

Driving the news: The plan is outlined in a memo from incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain Saturday. Following Biden's inauguration Wednesday, he'll "sign roughly a dozen actions to combat the four crises," Klain said.

2 hours ago - World

Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

4 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.