Climate disasters cost the world $650 billion over 3 years — Americans are bearing the brunt: Morgan Stanley

Key Points
  • North America absorbed two-thirds of the global cost of climate disasters over the last three years, Morgan Stanley says.
  • At $415 billion, the price of the disasters is equal to 0.66 percent of North America's GDP.
  • Morgan Stanley warns that near-term disruptions and long-term structural changes present risks to many sectors of the economy.
A Cal Fire firefighter monitors a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. 
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Climate-related disasters have cost the world $650 billion over the last three years, and North America is shouldering most of the burden, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley.

While governments and corporations are taking steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, Morgan Stanley says private enterprises need to strongly consider preparing for a world gripped by more frequent and intense weather events, rising sea levels, changes to agriculture and the spread of infectious disease. Those outcomes will have a lopsided effect across industries, raising risks for some and creating opportunities for others.

"We expect the physical risks of climate change to become an increasingly important part of the investment debate for 2019," Morgan Stanley equity strategists Mark Savino, Jessica Alsford and Victoria Irving said in a research note Wednesday.

At $650 billion, the three-year price of climate disasters totals just over a quarter of a percent of global gross domestic product, the analysts say. The investment bank warns that the situation may only get worse, noting that damages associated with global warming could total $54 trillion by 2040, according to a UN panel composed of the world's top climate scientists.

Morningstar: Climate change poses challenge to investors
Morningstar: Climate change poses challenge to investors

The United States is bearing the brunt of climate change's toll on the economy. Morgan Stanley says climate-related disasters like hurricanes and wildfires have cost North America $415 billion, or two-thirds of the global total. That equals 0.66 percent of North American GDP.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 14 weather and climate disasters cost the nation $91 billion in 2018, Earth's fourth hottest year on record.

The assessment lands at a time when the U.S. is at a crossroads over climate change. Liberals on Capitol Hill are pushing a Green New Deal to overhaul the U.S. economy in just 10 years, while a select committee led by establishment House Democrats is pursuing a more modest approach to tackling global warming.

President Donald Trump continues to cast doubt on the consensus among climate scientists and U.S. government agencies that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are warming the planet. His administration, backed by congressional Republicans, is seeking to boost fossil fuel production and push through a broad rollback of Obama-era policies aimed at lowering U.S. emissions.

After the U.S., Asia is most exposed to the cost of climate disasters, absorbing $180 billion in economic damages, equal to 0.24 percent of regional GDP, Morgan Stanley says.

Parts of the two regions — including the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts, China and the Philippines — are also at greatest risk of sea level rise and adverse weather events. Changes to agricultural conditions will also have big impact on parts of North America and Asia, in addition to Europe and Central America. The spread of infectious disease is of greatest concern to Africa, Latin America and other developing regions, the bank says.

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In the near term, Morgan Stanley sees climate change posing risk of negative disruptions to a dozen sectors, from agriculture to oil and gas production. Just four sectors — capital goods, home improvement retail, lodging and construction machinery — could reap benefits from those near-term disruptions.

Over the longer term, structural changes are seen negatively impacting nine sectors, including many of the industries that also face near-term hurdles. Real estate, leisure and consumer retail are also on the list. Other sectors, like auto manufacturing, biotechnology, health care and pharmaceuticals, insurance, mining and utilities, could find opportunity in structural change.

Drilling down, the four main vectors that Morgan Stanley identifies — sea-level rise, weather events, changes in agriculture and infectious disease — will impact sectors in different ways.

For example, rising sea levels are expected to hurt property values for coastal real estate and disrupt apparel supply chains in Asia. However, it could also boost spending on machinery to rebuild seaside infrastructure and spark higher sales of capital goods like commercial pumps and other water management products.