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20 November 2012

Who'd want to bank on 4C?

The latest World Bank report on climate change, Turn Down the Heat, sets out a stark vision of the future says Richard Gledhill, partner, PwC sustainability and climate change.

The World Bank's latest report on climate change is not so much a wake up call, as the coffee and buffet breakfast for all arriving at the Doha negotiators' door at the same time. No matter which way you turn the new World Bank report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C warmer world must be avoided', lays out in quite unemotional terms the realities that could face us in a warming world, and presents a compelling business case for why negotiators at next week’s Doha climate summit must work to avoid it.

I've been a regular attendee at UN climate summits in recent years. Each year we bang on about the need for greater urgency and greater ambition in the talks - almost to the point of sounding like a broken record. Now we're days away from Doha, and we are rehearsing the same lines. This year is different though. Because we've all done too little, too late, the political goal of staying within 2oC now appears highly unrealistic. According to the recent PwC Low Carbon Economy Index, since 2000 the carbon intensity of the global economy has reduced by an average of just 0.8% per annum. The annual reduction in carbon intensity through to 2050 now required to stay within 2°C of warming is 5.1% a year, more than has ever been achieved in the past.  Even to have a 50% chance of staying within 4°C would require a fourfold increase in the average annual rate of decarbonisation through to 2050. So we now need to plan for a warmer world - perhaps 4 oC or even 6 oC.

In that context, the World Bank report provides a snapshot of what a 4 oC world might be like, as early as the 2060s - that's hopefully within the lifetimes of at least half of the world's population. World Bank Group President, Dr Kim, sums these scenarios up in a single word – “devastating”. We simply can't afford to let them happen.

Even the subheadings in the report are arresting: "Rising CO2 concentration and ocean acidification; Rising sea levels, costal inundation and loss; Risks to human support systems; Risks of disruptions and displacements." The report pictures a world where sea levels rise by up to a metre, and possibly more, by 2100. In the tropics sea level rise is likely to be 15 – 20% larger than that global mean. We’ll see substantial increases in aridity, and drought in tropical and subtropical areas. The largest warming will occur over land, in the region of 4 oC – 10 oC, and is expected in larger regions of the world like North Africa, US, Middle East. Summers like that experienced in Russia in 2010, that caused global wheat commodity shortages, will be the new normal. "Coral reefs - that protect against coastal floods, wave damage and storm surges - could stop growing if warming reaches 1.4C by the 2030s. Food, income, tourism and shoreline protection will all be affected. Overall, “the poor will suffer the most.”

The message to negotiators en route to Doha is clear. Don't give in to 4 oC.

The heat is on the climate talks, and business as usual just isn't an option.