For years, there has been much conjecture concerning the effect of the changing climate upon global business. As technology becomes more advanced and the impacts of climate change more pronounced, researchers have been able to add some clarity to a phenomenon which, for the most part, has been intangible.
Part of the reason why the climate change debate is so contentious – even though the vast majority of scientists support one side – stems from a lack of certainty. Most people will only believe what they can see. When something as frightening and foreign as climate change comes around, the natural reaction of some people is to look out the window, see a normal day and ask what all the fuss is about.
The same attitude exists at an organisational level, albeit to a smaller degree. Article upon article has been written on the issue of climate change, each forecasting varying types of doom for organisations across the world. But when sceptics look at key indicators as they relate to their organisation, there hardly appears to be a reason for concern, in that, their organisation is still doing well. This is what makes it so difficult to get organisations on board with reducing their contributions to the warming planet.
It is in equal parts fortunate and sad that we now have the data at our disposal to dispel this lack of certainty as to whether climate change is truly worth worrying about. Many of us wish that the figures weren’t as grim as they are; hopefully, they add some impetus to the message we have been pushing for so long.
For people who still feel sceptical or perhaps underestimate the scale of the risk, it is important to keep looking at the numbers as they come out. McKinsey Global Institute’s Climate Risk and Response Report, published in January 2020, paints a clear picture of what looms on our horizon.
A statistic that I find particularly compelling relates to the capacity of individuals to live and work in certain areas. In India, there will be a 14% chance of vulnerable regions experiencing a lethal heatwave at least once a year by 2050. For context, only 10% of Indian households had an air conditioning unit in 2018. 480 million people will be living in these vulnerable regions by 2050.
Beyond the devasting human impacts serious heatwaves can have, it is abundantly clear that running any sort of economic enterprise in this environment will be both risky and potentially unviable. Upon considering how much economic potential India has, these stats underline the scale of the issue we are talking about.
Another important element of McKinsey’s research manifests in its contextualisation of some of the figures that, on their own, don’t truly reflect the reality of the climate crisis. It mentions that, on average, global temperatures have increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. While this doesn’t appear massive, the report outlines how the taking of an average hides the extremes. The percentage of the Northern Hemisphere that experiences a substantially hotter summer (relative to the rest of the year) has increased from 1% to 15%. In other words, the number of places in the Northern Hemisphere whose summer months are radically hotter compared to the rest of the year has multiplied on a scale of 15 since the 1880s.
The 1.1 degree Celsius average also obscures spatial variance. For example, while temperatures in the Arctic have risen between 0.2 and 0.5 degrees Celsius, some places in Africa have seen temperatures rise by over 4 degrees.
While these stats don’t come close to providing the full picture on the issue, they do highlight the scale of the potential damage climate change can bring about. Right now, Australians are facing a summer where we have seen bushfires of a size and intensity we have rarely seen before. These figures illustrate how the issues associated with a changing climate – of which bushfires are one – extend across the planet.
Businesses and executives are community leaders. Wider society looks to us when contentious issues arise to determine their own mindset. We are no longer in a position where we can dispute the science and the potential effects. This research is a testament to that fact.
We must take the lead. Consequences are beginning to take hold everywhere. 2020 is a better time than ever to begin planning for a safer future.