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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.

Updated 26 mins ago - Sports

Big European soccer teams announce breakaway league

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) after striking the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Liverpool F.C. and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, England, last Wednesday. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

12 of world soccer's biggest and richest clubs announced Sunday they've formed a breakaway European "Super League" — with clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan among those to sign up.

Why it matters: The prime ministers of the U.K. and Italy are among those to express concern at the move — which marks a massive overhaul of the sport's structure and finances, and it effectively ends the decades-old UEFA Champions League's run as the top tournament for European soccer.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats settling on 25% corporate tax rate

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The universe of Democratic senators concerned about raising the corporate tax rate to 28% is broader than Sen. Joe Manchin, and the rate will likely land at 25%, parties close to the discussion tell Axios.

Why it matters: While increasing the rate from 21% to 25% would raise about $600 billion over 15 years, it would leave President Biden well short of paying for his proposed $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package.