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If Chinese premier Hu Jintao had any doubts about taking an aggressive stance to enforce carbon-emission reductions at the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Summit, a report today may push him over the edge. A detailed analysis of the potential economic impacts of rapid global warming, put together by insurance-industry experts and underwritten by the World Wildlife Fund and insurance giant Allianz, found that China stands to suffer a whopping $9 trillion in economic damage by 2050.
The U.S. followed closely behind, with $7 trillion in potential damage, and India took the third spot with $3 trillion in potential environmental damage. The study was notable in that it was performed by experts in insurance and actuarial research, rather than climate researchers, which implies more objectivity and financial-industry rigor.
The research also identified potentially catastrophic feedback loops resulting from global warming. The rapid thawing of the permafrost in the tundra around the northern parts of Siberia, Canada, and Alaska could not only cause enormous damage to existing infrastructure built to accommodate those conditions, but also could release massive amounts of carbon that's trapped in the permafrost.
Glacial melting combined with drier weather conditions due to global warming could also decimate river flows. Such glacial flows from the Himalayas feed key rivers in China and India. "In India alone, melt-water from Himalayan glaciers and snowfields currently supplies up to 85% of the dry season flow, and initial modelling suggests that this could be reduced to about 30% of its current contribution over the next 50 years," the report says.
But know this. When your insurance company tells you the bill is likely going way, way up, it's time to start thinking about behavioral changes -- because these guys aren't doing it for the warm-fuzzy feelings.