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Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Adding projected heat-related deaths into cost-benefit analysis of federal rules would tilt policymaking in favor of more aggressive carbon emissions cuts, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The social cost of carbon helps determine the outcome of cost-benefit analyses that underpin federal regulations. Adding in global warming's potential to cause more heat-related fatalities would tilt the policy calculus from supporting a gradual phaseout of emissions starting in 2050, to fully decarbonizing by the same year.

The big picture: The study, published Thursday in Nature Communications, adds temperature-related mortality impacts into calculations of the estimated damage to society caused by the emission of one additional metric ton of carbon dioxide.

  • Recent studies have shown that climate change will likely cause millions of premature deaths worldwide, primarily through increased heat waves and other disasters like floods, more severe hurricanes, food shortages and other effects.
  • R. Daniel Bressler, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University's Earth Institute, found that that by taking direct heat-related deaths into account, the more appropriate social cost — expressed as a "mortality cost of carbon," is surprisingly steep.

By the numbers: Bressler determined that the mortality cost of carbon works out to 0.000226 excess deaths through 2100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted.

  • That sounded to him to be infinitesimally small and hard to grasp, so he did further calculations.
  • Every 4,434 metric tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere in 2020 causes one death through 2100, the study found. This is equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 3.5 average Americans, given their high per capita emissions rates, or 146.2 Nigerians, considering the lower per capita emissions rates in that country.

Details: Bressler also added the mortality cost of carbon to the well-known Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy Model, or DICE, which Nobel Prize-winning Yale environmental economist William Nordhaus pioneered.

  • In doing so, Bressler found that the social cost of carbon as calculated by the updated DICE model would increase seven-fold, from $37 per metric ton to $258 per metric ton.
  • Bressler also found that in a business as usual emissions scenario, there would be 83 million projected cumulative excess heat-related deaths between 2020 and 2100 using according to the modified DICE model.
  • However, fully decarbonizing by 2050 would slash that total to just 9 million excess deaths, Bressler told Axios.
  • "The big picture is just that, there are a lot of lives that can be saved from reducing emissions," Bressler said. The study, for example, shows that taking one coal-fired power plant offline in the U.S. in 2020 would, through the end of the century, prevent 904 deaths.
  • Bressler noted the fatality figures are probably an underestimate, because the study ignores all other climate-related causes of death in addition to heat.

Yes, but: There are a number of uncertainties in the new study, including that the climate mortality projections themselves vary considerably in their results. Bressler tried to account for that by including central estimates, rather than the high or low ends of the spectrum.

  • The study also doesn't factor in the co-benefits of shutting down certain types of fossil fuel power plants, which produce other harmful air pollutants in addition to greenhouse gases.
  • "That's something that, if you added it into the model, you would also see, probably even stricter climate policy," Bressler said.

Go deeper

Study: More infectious diseases inevitable due to climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Climate change is creating ideal conditions for infectious diseases to spread more quickly, according to The Lancet Countdown's annual climate report out Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's just one of the increasingly urgent threats to human health emerging from global climate change.

The big picture: Climate studies show that extreme weather events — such as more powerful hurricanes, heavier rainstorms, larger wildfires and hotter and longer-lasting heat waves — are worsening worldwide due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, Axios' Andrew Freeman reports.

  • These events have had serious impacts on the health of entire regions and the vulnerable causing preventable deaths, food and water insecurity and the spread of infectious diseases.

Net-zero emissions fight breaks out before COP26

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Here's a sign of how tough it'll be to win new emissions-cutting moves at COP26: Big developing nations are refusing to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Driving the news: That's spelled out in a new statement from countries including China, the biggest greenhouse gas emitter by far, as well as India and Indonesia.

New Zealand passes "world-first" climate change disclosure law for banks

Commerce and consumer affairs minister David Clark and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2018. Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

New Zealand passed a "world-first" law requiring financial institutions to disclose and act on climate change impacts concerning their businesses, officials announced Thursday.

Why it matters: About 200 of the "largest financial market participants in New Zealand" will have to "disclose clear, comparable and consistent information about the risks, and opportunities, climate change presents to their business," per a statement from commerce and consumer affairs minister David Clark.

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