Surface water is among Earth’s most important resources. Yet, benefit–cost studies often report that the costs of water quality protection exceed its benefits. One possible reason for this seeming paradox is that often only a narrow range of local water quality benefits are considered. In particular, the climate damages from water pollution have rarely been quantified. Recent advances in global water science allow the computation of the global methane emission from lakes caused by human nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). Here, we estimate the present value of the global social cost of eutrophication-driven methane emissions from lakes between 2015 and 2050 to be $7.5–$81 trillion (2015 $US), and in a case-study for one well-studied lake (Lake Erie) we find the global value of avoiding eutrophication exceeds local values of either beach use or sport fishing by 10-fold.
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