What is the Cost of Climate Change to our Oceans?

An unprecedented study claims to show how the effects of climate change could cost the global marine economy two trillion dollars per year, but this begs the question: how can you cost the oceans?



Scientists in Sweden claim climate change could cause almost $2 trillion of damage per year through marine impacts alone by 2100 if emissions continue to rise at current rates.

Valuing the Ocean, a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is due to be published in June this year and has assigned monetary values to five categories of ocean services in a bid to establish an objective calculation for the costs of climate change to the marine economy.

The study uses one high- and one low-emissions scenario as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to show how quick and concerted efforts to minimise global warming could lead to savings of $1.37 trillion per year – or 0.25% or projected global GDP – by 2100.

Low- and high-emissions scenarios as modeled by the SEI

“These figures are just part of the story, but they provide an indication of the price of the avoidable portion of future environmental damage on the ocean – in effect the distance between our hopes and our fears,” says Frank Ackerman, director of SEI’s Climate Economics Group. “The cost of inaction increases greatly with time, a factor which must be fully recognised in climate change accounting.”

The researchers state that the five areas they have focused on – fisheries, sea-level rise, storms, tourism and the ocean carbon-sink – can all be accurately priced, allowing them to measure the real, monetary costs of climate change.

According to a preview of the study’s results, the final figures have been calculated using data only on variables that humans can realistically alter and only concerning factors to which an objective price can be assigned.

An executive summary of the ‘Economic perspectives’ chapter states that the study uses “The most significant and up-to-date climate economics and science literature from a variety of sources.” Further details on the researchers’ source materials are still sketchy at this pre-publication stage.

Can you do something with the data?

Data summary

Projected costs to marine economy in 2050 and 2100. Click heading to sort table. Download this data

Category of ocean services
Low climate impacts 2050 (Billions of 2010 US$)
High climate impacts 2050 (Billions of 2010 US$)
Difference 2050 (Billions of 2010 US$)
Low climate impacts 2100 (Billions of 2010 US$)
High climate impacts 2100 (Billions of 2010 US$)
Difference 2100 (Billions of 2010 US$)
Fisheries 67.5 88.4 20.9 262.1 343.3 81.2
Sea-level rise 10.3 111.6 101.3 34 367.2 333.2
Storms 0.6 7 6.4 14.5 171.9 157.4
Tourism 27.3 58.3 31.1 301.6 639.4 337.7
Ocean carbon sink 0 162.8 162.8 0 457.8 457.8
Total 105.7 428.1 322.5 612.2 1979.6 1367.4
Percent of GDP 0 0 0 0 0 0

About Climate Desk

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.