Climate change doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen relatively rapidly as we have seen over the past decades – according to the majority of scientists, we’ve seen a warming trend faster than most naturally occurring fluctuations.
Greenhouse gases are the driving force behind global warming, but the amount of one such gas, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), in the atmosphere today will take decades to exert its full impact on the climate system. Think of this fact in light of the recent statements from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that around half of the increase in CO2 emissions over the period from 1750 to 2010, have occurred in the last 40 years and that greenhouse gas emissions are rising at near-record pace.
The effects are not immediate, so the challenge is in finding ways to adapt to changes that are already ‘locked-in’ and to mitigate the rises in CO2 to reduce potential impacts on the future.
The IPCC view is that a global average surface temperature rise of 2° Celsius will result in “dangerous” climate change, which describes the more serious impacts of climate change including food scarcity and water shortage.
Mitigation and adaptation strategies to avoid this 2° Celsius increase will be needed to prevent the serious impacts, in both a financial and humanitarian sense.
This latest IPCC report discusses the costs of delaying measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions – if we delay through 2030, then the economic costs during an inevitable move to renewable energy and long-term adaptation strategies may be higher and perhaps impossible to reduce the level of warming to below 2° Celsius.
The IPCC report also claims that climate-resilient options maybe be reduced if we continue to delay the large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are advised to avoid “dangerous” climate change, since they are linked to how much we accomplish with mitigation strategies.
This imperative to change our energy usage towards renewables presents significant business opportunities, especially as governments seek to incentivise uptake of renewable technologies such as the Feed-In Tariff in the UK.
Solar energy and wind power generation have led the way in terms of uptake. Renewables last year represented 8.5% of the total global electric power market (up from 7.8% in 2012) based on United Nations Energy Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg figures. Efforts to advance new technology to solve the increasing CO2 emissions issue, such as carbon capture storage and carefully managed bioenergy methods, may help and provide business opportunities should they be seen as viable and effective.
Whether we avoid the “dangerous” 2°C mark or not, there will still be impacts and changes to our weather, some of which we have already seen as explained above. Generally, the consensus of opinion is for more extreme weather conditions borne out of a greater variability of climate.
As with any change in any system, opportunities will arise for quick adopters of a new regime. How does a company become an early adopter? It needs to understand the changes at hand and develop strategies to leverage its resources (be they capital, expertise, or man power) to the benefit of the new operating environment.
Timing is everything in this respect. Understanding climate variability can present significant opportunities in a changing world. In a world where the past, due to recent rapid change, doesn’t necessarily represent the future, the scientific community uses highly sophisticated general circulation models (GCMs) of the atmosphere and oceans, run on some of the most powerful super computers in the world. They look decades into the future to understand how our world might change, but also glance back in time at past data to understand how well they represent the historic variability and change in the climate system. Projects run through the Willis Research Network (WRN), for example, have explored some aspects of this field of study in relation to extreme events.
The insurance sector is well aware of the hurricane season of 2005. This was extreme, with 31 North Atlantic tropical storms, 7 of which became major hurricanes—roughly double the average.
If we supposed that this extreme is to become the new normal, and we followed the same relationship, could we see enough energy in the atmospheric and oceanic system to produce double again to represent a new extreme in the future? Do we even need to look into the future to find evidence of changes in the extremes of hurricane activity due to anthropogenic (manmade) gases and aerosols?
WRN Senior Scientist Greg Holland has already found a proportional shift towards the more intense end of the hurricane scale (Saffir-Simpson scale) based on anthropogenic sources in observed trends and model analyses. These past changes are considerable, with an increase of around 50-100% in category 4 and 5 hurricanes and an equal reduction in weaker systems.
Our climate-change expectation for extreme weather events could already be becoming the “new normal”.