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Climate change and the economy

12 Mar 2019

Speech by Reserve Bank Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle.

Highlights for consideration:

  • We need to think in terms of trend rather than cycles in the weather. Droughts have generally been regarded (at least economically) as cyclical events that recur every so often. In contrast, climate change is a trend change. The impact of a trend is ongoing, whereas a cycle is temporary.
  • We need to reassess the frequency of climate events. In addition, we need to reassess our assumptions about the severity and longevity of the climatic events. For example, the insurance industry has recognised that the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones (and hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere) has changed. This has caused the insurance sector to reprice how they insure (and re-insure) against such events.
  • We need to think about how the economy is currently adapting and how it will adapt both to the trend change in climate and the transition required to contain climate change. The time-frame for both the impact of climate change and the adaptation of the economy to it is very pertinent here. The transition path to a less carbon-intensive world is clearly quite different depending on whether it is managed as a gradual process or is abrupt. The trend changes aren't likely to be smooth. There is likely to be volatility around the trend, with the potential for damaging outcomes from spikes above the trend.
  • Both the physical impact of climate change and the transition are likely to have first-order economic effects.
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