An international group of climate scientists, energy analysts, and experts in risk from finance and the military today released a new independent assessment of the risks of climate change, designed to support political leaders, businesses and financial markets in their decisions on how much priority to give to the issue.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned this report. The authors have written it in their independent capacity.
This first-of-its-kind multi-country assessment applies the principles of risk assessment used in finance and national security to better understand and communicate the risks of climate change. The assessment considers three key areas: the future pathway of global emissions; the direct risks arising from the climate’s response to those emissions; and the risks arising from the interaction of climate change with complex human systems.
Speaking at the report launch, S. Ramadorai, Chairman, National Skill Development Agency and National Skill Development Corporation, said, “The launch of this report could not have found a more appropriate venue than the BSE, the nerve centre of the Indian economy. Today, we face high human, economic and ecological vulnerabilities thanks to climate change. It is critical for us to understand that the risks of climate change are non-linear: while average conditions may change gradually, the risks can increase rapidly. On a high carbon emissions pathway, the probability of crossing thresholds beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable will increase over time.”
The report highlights the following direct and systemic risks of increasing climate change in India and across the world:
On a high emission pathway, flooding in the Ganges basin could be six times more frequent, becoming a 1 in 5 year event, over the course of the century
With 1m of global sea level rise, the probability of what is now a ‘100-year flood event’ becomes about 1000 times more likely in Kolkata
On a high emission pathway, the incidence of extreme drought affecting cropland could increase by about 50% in South Asia. This would come on top of a situation in which approximately 750 million people in South Asia will be facing extreme water shortage (or 1.8 billion facing chronic water shortage) by 2050 as a result of population growth
If the world warms by 4oC, in northern India there is a 30% probability that temperatures will be so high that moderate/heavy outdoor work cannot be carried out in the hottest month
There is about a 40% chance that individuals in northern India will not be able to participate in competitive outdoor activities in summertime when global average temperatures have risen on average by one degree compared to the present
A ‘1 in 100 year’ shock to global food production in the latter half of the 20th century may become three times more likely by mid-21st century with increasing frequency of extreme weather events occurring due to climate change
As high rates of global population growth are increasing demand, climate change could further reduce already stressed resources, especially in conflict regions. This could significantly increase the risks of state failures, food restrictions, civil unrest, large-scale migration and internal security hazards
Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water and one of the lead co-authors of the report said, “The most important decision any government has to make about climate change is one of priority: how much effort to expend on countering it, relative to the effort that must be spent on other issues. This risk assessment aims to inform that decision. In a year when important climate negotiations are scheduled, this kind of multi-country risk assessment hopes to inform a wide range of stakeholders about the risks for which human societies need to prepare.”
This report was the result of a collaboration between Harvard University Center for the Environment, Tsinghua University, China, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (one of India’s leading think-tanks), and Cambridge University Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Numerous experts from the fields of climate science, energy technology, water, food and agriculture, health, finance, accounting, insurance, and defence and national security were drawn into the process (through meetings, workshops, wargaming, scenario planning) from November 2014 to April 2015. Meetings were held in Cambridge (Massachusetts), Beijing, New Delhi, and London.
The experts assessed how emissions would rise, the direct risks (on health, food yields, coastal flooding, water stress, etc.) and the systemic risks to human systems (conflict and international security concerns, migration, humanitarian assistance, state capacity and state failure, etc.).
The report suggests that the largest risks of climate change may be those that are magnified by the interactions of people, markets and governments. It finds that migration from some regions of the world could become ‘more a necessity than a choice’ and that the risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously. The report recommends applying the principles of risk assessment to climate change, broadening participation in the climate risk assessment process (beyond just climate scientists) and reporting to the highest decision making authorities at the national and international levels.