Climate change: Six things to worry about, besides the weather

21 June 2013

With climate change often measured in terms of tens, and hundreds of years, its been a pretty frantic  few weeks for our understanding of the climate change debate. Richard Gledhill rounds up the six things businesses should not  forget in a hurry.

#1: A record not to be proud of: Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide breached another critical threshold last month, breaking through 400ppm, a level not seen in the world for 800,000 years (or possibly a lot more)

#2: Facing the prospect of 4 degrees: The World Bank issued their second report on Turn down the heat this week. It makes bleak reading. In the absence of further mitigation action, there is a 40% change of warming exceeding 4 degrees C by 2100. The new report looks in more detail at what this would mean for Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to PwC's Global CEO Survey 2013, five of the top overseas destinations for global CEOs are high growth, emerging markets. China, India and Brazil feature in the top five, whilst Indonesia makes the top 10 for the first time. But the future for many of these regions looks challenging in a 4C degree world. For example, South East Asia faces:

  • strong increases in heat extremes (exacerbated by the heat island effect in the big cities that are so central to growth in the region)
  • sea level rises, impacting coastal regions and river deltas. Cities such as Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok are particularly vulnerable
  • significant increases in the intensity of tropical cyclones
  • shocks to food production and water availability

Significant climate and development impacts are already being felt in some regions of the world. The multiple threats from climate change will have further severe negative implications, particularly for the world's poorest.

#3: Threats (and opportunities) for the UK from climate change overseas: The World Bank analysis reinforced the key conclusion in a report issued by PwC on Monday on International threats and opportunities of climate change for the UK: that the impact on the UK economy of climate change overseas could be an order of magnitude greater than domestic threats. The top threats include damage to physical and financial assets from extreme weather and flooding, increased volatility of food prices and the risk of protectionist measures exacerbating food security concerns. Climate change is a risk multiplier, which drives up the costs and consequences of disasters and conflicts.

#4:...and in the UK: The Met Office hosted a meeting of weather and climate scientists in Exeter this week, to try to make sense of UK's run of cold winters and wet summers - five of the last six summers have seen above average rainfall. Shifts in the gulf stream impact our weather in different ways at different times of the year and some scientists are concerned that climate change could be "loading the dice" against us.

More research is needed, and it is too early to draw any conclusions. But if this is a persistent change, the ramifications eg for food security, flood risks, coastal erosion and even the tourist industry, could be worrying, requiring a more urgent adaptation agenda, for both business and government.

#5: Blockages in Bonn: Meanwhile in Bonn last week the latest round of climate negotiations were hampered by procedural disputes, with the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine digging in their heals after being railroaded in Doha last December, and a lack of momentum in many areas. So the prospects for real progress in Warsaw in November and for a meaningful global deal in 2015, look increasingly challenging

#6: A glass half full from the International Energy Agency? Also last week the IEA published its latest report on climate change. Like the World Bank, they are also looking at more threatening levels of warming - they believe we are on track for between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C, (with most of the increase occurring this century). Staying within 2 degrees, which we said last year was highly unrealistic, is according to the IEA still "technically feasible" (so still worth talking about) but "extremely challenging".  The IEA's conclusion is similar to the one we reached in our Low Carbon Economy Index last year - business should anticipate both climate and policy shocks.

Despite all this, climate change didn't make it to the main agenda at the G8 summit in Lough Erne, eclipsed by negotiations on Syria and taxes. Although the Communique issued at the conclusion of the summit did include a shopping list of actions and pledges agreed by the sherpas ahead of the main event.

Overall, ‘must try harder’ is a sobering report card on the international negotiations and action on climate change.