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White House: Action on Climate Change Could Save Tens of Thousands of Lives

A report released Monday by the White House was intended to show the costs of inaction on climate change.

Taking immediate action to slow the effects of climate change could save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars a year over the next century as America faces rising temperatures and decreased air quality, the White House argues in an analysis released Monday.

The report is meant to show the effects of inaction on climate change, as well as the benefits that could be reaped from acting now. While the most severe effects of global warming would not be felt for decades, the Obama administration said that decisions about climate change need to be made immediately.

The report, titled "Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action," isn’t all gloom and doom. It claims that acting on climate change now could save lives down the road — as many as 57,000 in the year 2100 who would otherwise die from the effects of poor air quality alone. The report was produced by a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency, MIT, and other members of the Climate Change Impacts and Risks Analysis (CIRA) project.

“The report finds that we can save tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, annually in the United States by the end of this century, and the sooner we act, the better off America and future generations of Americans will be,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

Another report, commissioned by The Lancet medical journal and published later Monday, comes to a similar conclusion. That report says the detrimental effects of climate change could undo the gains made in international development and global health over the past 50 years.

How to cut climate costs

The White House report puts dollar figures on actions that slow climate change, saying that taking steps now to keep global temperatures down could bring long-term savings for the American taxpayer. According to the report, those savings include: as much as $34 billion on power systems costs in 2050, $3.1 billion in costs avoided as sea levels rise in 2100, and up to $7.4 billion in road adaptation costs in the same year.

Related: White House Warns of Climate Catastrophes

“As [greenhouse gas] emissions from human activities increase, many climate change impacts are expected to increase in both magnitude and frequency over the coming decades, with risks to human health, the economy, and the environment,” the report states. It presumes that governments, companies and individuals dig in to keep the average global temperature to a standard of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

While the report focuses on impacts at the national level, acting to reduce the effects of climate change could have specific local effects, from protecting fisheries to reducing heat-related deaths and preserving Hawaiian coral reefs, said Jeremy Martinich, an EPA climate policy analyst. While there could be some positive effects connected to changes in climate, he said, researchers said these tend to be outweighed by the adverse consequences.

“There’s a clear case here that acting on climate is vital to the interests of the U.S.,” Martinich said.

How climate affects health

The report published by The Lancet emphasizes the health effects. A panel of experts from around the world noted that rising temperatures could bring droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels. Those phenomena would have "very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival," one of the panel's leaders, Anthony Costello of University College London's Institute for Global Health, told reporters at a briefing in London.

Dealing with climate change will require concerted effort, the report said.

"Climate change is a medical emergency," said co-author Hugh Montgomery, director of UCL's Institute for Human Health and Performance. "It demands an emergency response using technologies available right now."

Related: Climate Shift Brings Rising Health Risks

The panelists provided a prescription for countering climate change and bringing about immediate health gains at the same time. For example, burning fewer fossil fuels — particularly coal — would reduce respiratory diseases. Getting more people to take walks and use bicycles rather than cars would reduce pollution and road accidents — and also lower rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Monday's reports come a week after Pope Francis released an encyclical in which he urged Catholics around the globe to help avert what he described as a growing environmental crisis.

Related: Will Pope's Words Sway Catholic Republicans?

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.