Flammable Planet: Wildfires and the Social Cost of Carbon

This report focuses on identifying the potential magnitude of wildfire damages from climate change, and provides the first estimate of the future economic costs of wildfires that will be magnified by climate change.

Preliminary estimates are given of the economic impacts of wildfire increases from climate change to the U.S. and the world. The paper reviews the various market damages (timber, property, and tourism), non-market damages (health, ecological, and non-use), and adaptation costs (prevention, suppression, and rehabilitation) associated with wildfires. Using current projections for warming temperatures and other factors, the study estimates a dramatic potential for increased wildfires. According to the report, “the United States will be particularly affected; scientists predict a 50 to 100 percent increase in area burned by 2050.”

The science behind the increase in wildfire risk due to climate change is presented first, with a discussion of potential impacts. The economics of wildfire impacts are considered in regard to a lack of damage estimates from climate change-induced wildfire risk. The report concludes with a discussion of the future estimation of wildfire damages from climate change.

U.S. wildfires cost as much as $125 billion annually, but climate change could add as much as $60 billion to the bill by 2050, the study found. The projected cost increase is attributed to an expanding area in which wildfires burn - estimated to be 50% to 100% larger by 2050. California "could experience a 36% to 74% increase in area burned by 2085 under a high emissions path," according to the report.

This study is part of the Cost of Carbon Project - a joint project by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, and the Natural Resources Defense Council - to examine the risks currently omitted from the government’s social cost of carbon estimate, such as wildfires, that climate change can intensify. 'Flammable Planet' lays the groundwork for the future inclusion of wildfire costs in the models that underlie the social cost of carbon.

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an estimate of the total cost of damage done by each ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the air. In 2013, the U.S government’s Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon updated its official estimate of the SCC to approximately $40.

Publication Date: September 16, 2014

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Peter Howard

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Resource Types:

  • Assessment


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