By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Climate change will likely cost every global citizen something in the years ahead, although the payback will be much greater, policymakers, scientists and officials told a Reuters summit this week.
"I think it will be every citizen, (but) that bill may not in the end be as high for the individual as it’s often made out to be," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme.
Not overtly spending now on the fight against climate change would still cost something, effectively borrowing from the future at the cost of future damage of widely expected extreme weather including floods, drought and sea level rise.
"The slightly depressing answer is that the highest part of the bill unfortunately will be paid by my children and their children, because they will have to pay the costs of living with climate change," said Steiner.
"There’s a real intergenerational dilemma here."
The difficulty is striking the right balance, especially difficult given all the uncertainty about just how bad global warming will be in the future.
"The payoff will be a healthy planet," said Peter Garrett, environment spokesman for Australia’s opposition Labor party, who will become the country’s next environment minister if Labor wins national elections due within weeks.
"Frankly, at the end of the day, to generations to come (the payoff) would be difficult to put a price upon."
Another difficult balance to weigh is deciding how to split among the present generation the cost of trying to prevent climate change now.
That cost will be especially felt in higher energy bills, to pay for more expensive energy derived from renewable sources like the wind and sun, which unlike fossil fuels do not produce the planet-warming gas carbon dioxide.
It is rich, industrialised countries which are expected to shoulder that cost most.
"There has been a system all over the world in which you tax the rich to help the poor — this is what any civilised society does," said Sunita Narain, a leading Indian environmentalist who is on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s climate change council.
"The rich have to pay but they are not, it is the poor who are paying today and they are paying with their lives," she added, referring to the fact that the poor are most vulnerable to extreme weather events already happening.
The good news is that these costs now may only be short-term, as people reap a payback from using energy more frugally, and investors earn returns from funding rapidly growing clean energy technologies.
"The wonderful news about addressing climate change is — I think it was President Bill Clinton who said it — may spur the greatest economic boon in the history of the planet," said Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist.
"Those who will do the best will be the ones who get in front rather than those who wait and let the parade go by."
"If you were to really carry out a proper balancing of costs and benefits, it seems to me that the plus side totally outweighs the negative," said the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri.