December 4, 2019 – 427 REPORT. Scenario analysis is an essential yet challenging component of understanding and preparing for the impacts of climate change on assets, markets and economies. When focusing on the short term, the warming and related impacts we have already committed to calls for scenarios that are decoupled from economic and policy activities and instead focus on the impacts that are already locked in. This report explores which impacts are already locked in, identifies how Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios fit into the conversation, and describes an approach to setting up scenario analysis for near-term physical climate risks.
As the effects of climate change increasingly threaten financial stability, investors and regulators are seeking to understand what impacts lie ahead, and calling for an increase in physical climate risk assessment and disclosure in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). To assess the scale of financial risk posed by physical climate change it is important to quantify risks under different climate scenarios. How will changes in extreme weather patterns, longer droughts and rising seas differ under various scenarios? Answering these questions through scenario analysis helps uncover the range of risks, allowing investors to identify assets and markets that are more likely to become stranded over time and to begin developing forward-looking resilience strategies. However, science-driven, decision-useful scenario analysis poses many challenges for businesses and financial stakeholders today, due to complex feedback loops, varying timescales, and multiple interacting factors that ultimately determine how global climate change manifests.
Figure 2. Distribution of daily extreme temperature changes in 2030-2040, expressed as a percent change, relative to a baseline of 1975-2005 under RCP 8.5. This map shows statistically downscaled global climate models averaged together, for this time frame and scenario. NASA Earth Exchange Global Daily Downscaled Projections statistically downscales climate model outputs to a ~25 kilometer resolution (see full details here) White areas are excluded because they lack potential for significant economic activity.
This new report, Demystifying Climate Scenario Analysis for Financial Stakeholders, explores which physical impacts are already locked in, identifies how Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios apply, and describes an approach to setting up scenario analysis for near-term physical climate risks. Scenario analysis is often approached from the perspective of transition risk, where policy developments and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets are the key drivers of risk pathways over the near-term, in the next 10 to 30 years. Physical risk, however, requires a different approach. Impacts over the coming decades are largely locked in, making the emissions scenarios less relevant. Unlike transition risk, GHG emission pathways play a minimal role in the behavior of the near-term climate and GHG emission pathways only begin to meaningfully influence global temperatures near mid-century. The uncertainty in physical climate risks in the near-term is driven by uncertainty in physical processes, rather than in policy decisions.
For organizations looking to construct physical climate risk scenarios for risk management and strategy purposes, it is critical to understand the scientific phenomena driving our plausible climate futures. This report outlines an approach called percentile-based analysis, which allows users to explore the range of potential outcomes based on climate model outputs within a single RCP. This offers a flexible, data-driven approach, suitable for portfolio-level screenings, reporting, and in some cases, direct engagement with asset managers.
OCTOBER 23, 2019 – BERKELEY, CA – Four Twenty Seven announces opening of Tokyo office and hires senior country representative.
Four Twenty Seven, an affiliate of Moody’s and the leading publisher of climate data for financial markets, is pleased to announce the opening of its office in Tokyo, Japan. Four Twenty Seven’s Tokyo office opens as investors and businesses in Japan and across the Asia-Pacific region face increasing market pressure to assess and disclose the risks physical climate hazards pose to their investments.
In conjunction with the opening of its office in Tokyo, Four Twenty Seven is also pleased to announce that Toshi Matsumae will serve as its Director of Japan. Toshi brings 30 years of experience leading financial services organizations in Japan. He leverages this expertise to lead Four Twenty Seven’s effort to provide climate risk screening to investors, asset managers, banks and corporations striving to understand their risk to physical climate hazards throughout Japan.
“We’ve seen growing demand from Japanese markets over the past year for transparency around exposure to physical climate risks in corporate assets, investment portfolios and in credit portfolios,” says Emilie Mazzacurati, Four Twenty Seven’s Founder and CEO. “Four Twenty Seven’s on-the-ground presence in Japan will allow us to bring asset-level risk data to support this demand and inform global resilience-building.”
“The opening of Four Twenty Seven’s Tokyo office comes at a time when the financial sector is calling for better integration of forward-looking climate data into decision-making,” says Toshi Matsumae, Four Twenty Seven’s Director of Japan. “I look forward to working with investors and businesses throughout Asia to better understand and serve the needs of this evolving market.”
2019年10月23日 –カルフォルニア、バークレー拠点の フォー・トゥエンティー・セブンが東京オフィスを開設
How does the private sector view climate change, why is this important for global climate adaptation and how does someone in this field remain motivated? Founder & CEO, Emilie Mazzacurati, joins Josh Dorfman’s new podcast, The Last Environmentalist, to discuss these topics and much more. The conversation covers the evolving views of climate risk in the financial sector and how this awareness can translate into resilience-building. Emilie describes near-term impacts of climate change on real estate markets, adaptation actions taken by corporations and the interacting nature of climate risk and resilience across private and public sectors.
For more detail on climate risk in real estate, read our recent analysis, Real Estate Climate Risks: How Will Europe be Impacted? For more insight on shareholder engagement, read our report, Engaging with Corporates to Build Adaptive Capacity.
Extreme weather events driven by climate change are having severe impacts that are increasingly being seen across Europe. Between 1980 and 2017, weather and climate-related extremes caused approximately €453 billion of total economic losses. Among those losses, it is estimated that only 35% were insured. Climate change has a substantial impact on real estate markets. It can directly damage individual buildings, decrease their value or even lead to assets being rendered unusable. In Europe, floods from extreme rainfall and sea level rise represent a major threat to real estate markets. As climate change leads to more frequent and severe extreme weather events it is increasingly important for real estate investors to understand the climate risk exposure of key assets and prepare for impacts.
To provide a view on physical climate-related risk for the real estate industry in Europe, Four Twenty Seven used a proprietary model that leverages global climate data to provide asset-level risk assessments to physical climate hazards. We analyzed the exposure of 20,816 retail spaces and 16,188 offices in Four Twenty Seven’s database of one million corporate facilities. The real estate sites are owned by over 900 listed companies, out of the 2,000 companies included in our database. We used our climate risk scoring methodology to assess each facility’s exposure to climate hazards, with a focus on floods, sea level rise and heat stress looking out to mid-century. Flood risk and sea level rise are assessed with a precision of 90x90m. Heat stress is evaluated at a 25x25km scale.
We found that 19% of retail spaces and 16% of offices are exposed to floods and/or sea level rise, with floods representing the highest risk for both types of asset. Heat stress also presents significant risk to these facilities.
Inland Floods: A Major Threat for a Warming Europe
Floods are one of the most prominent risks for real estate in Europe. In most European cities, climate change is increasing the frequency and the intensity of heavy precipitation events, threatening urban infrastructure and increasing flooding.
Floods can inundate facilities directly, leading to disrupted operations and equipment damage and can also have indirect impacts on operations by damaging regional transportation, power and communication infrastructure. Fluvial and pluvial floods can increase costs associated with maintenance and repair of buildings, lead to higher insurance premiums, and reduce revenue due to business disruptions.
Floods also have wider impacts on real estate markets. For example, studies looking at the residential market in Germany and Finland show that properties in flood-prone areas are sold at lower prices compared to properties without flood risk.
Retail spaces in the United Kingdom are particularly exposed to flood risks, based on our analysis (Fig. 1). Climate change is likely to contribute to more events like the winter storms of 2015-2016 which resulted in around £1.6 billion of total economic damages in the United Kingdom. Over 20% of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield’s retail assets are located in flood-prone areas.
The amount of rain during heavy precipitation events in Glasgow (Fig. 2) is projected to double by 2030-2040 compared to 1975-2005. London is also exposed to surface, fluvial and tidal floods. In our analysis, London is the city with the highest number of retail spaces in flood-prone areas (Table 1). Its most exposed sites have a 20% probability of being flooded each year, and a 1% probability that the flood depth will be higher than one meter, based on Four Twenty Seven’s data.
Without adaptation measures at the site-level and the city-level, these assets will likely suffer from increasing property damages and potential business disruptions due to more frequent and severe rainstorms. For example, floods can reduce business at retail sites such as clothing stores when consumers may prefer to stay home or be prohibited from shopping by inundated infrastructure. Likewise, grocery stores and other retail sites may experience supply chain disruptions or damaged goods with impacts on sales and revenues.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have a Climate Change Adaptation Program. The English program pledges to construct additional hard defenses and to support communities and businesses in increasing their properties’ and investments’ resilience.
Sea Level Rise: When Beach Front No Longer Means Value
Several recent studies have found that there is potential for severe sea level rise if certain tipping points are reached. For example, East Antarctica is warming faster than previously expected, with immense implications for global sea levels. According to opinions gathered from experts, there is a possibility of sea levels rising to two meters by 2100 under a 5˚C scenario. Without coastal adaptation investment, it is estimated that annual damages, due to storm surges and king tides, could reach up to almost €1 trillion by the end of the century in Europe.
The real estate industry is at the front line of sea level rise risk. Properties can suffer from severe damages leading to maintenance and repair costs. Even if a facility itself is not permanently inundated, it may be rendered unusable if its closest rail and road infrastructure experience chronic disruptions. Sea level rise can also have far-reaching market impacts such as increasing insurance costs and higher local taxes to fund adaptation efforts. The perception of sea level rise risk can also impact an asset’s value. For example, French coastal properties suffered from substantial damages after coastal flooding caused by storm Xynthia in 2012. At the Ile de Ré, a touristic French island close to La Rochelle, material losses had a longer-term effect on the real estate market. Home prices dropped in the most exposed part of the island. Fields previously sought after by developers became classified as non-constructible areas after the storm.
Our assessment found that corporate offices are highly exposed to sea level rise in Europe (Fig. 3). Increasing floods and chronic inundation from sea level rise can affect employee commutes, with implications for business continuity at offices. Assets in Ireland, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom have particularly high exposure.
Copenhagen is highly exposed to sea level rise, with 81% of its offices exposed to coastal flooding. In its Climate Adaptation Plan, the city acknowledges that it will be at high risk of flooding in 2040, stating that if no adaptation measures are undertaken, sea level rise will cause “unacceptable” damage. An asset’s risk to sea level rise will be largely driven by regional adaptation efforts to prepare for flooding from higher tides and storm surge.
Copenhagen has defined a long-term adaptation strategy, including the creation of green infrastructure and flexible spaces that can be inundated during high tides, such as sports fields and parks. The city also constructed dikes and quays to protect it from up to 2 meter storm surges. However, the construction of hard protective infrastructure is leading to very high expenditure for local authorities, which can have impacts on local taxes and the strength of other government services. Adaptation policies may also affect building permit requirements and add restrictions to real estate development. Dublin is the city with the highest number of corporate offices from our database exposed to sea level rise (Table 2). This exposure is concentrated in Dublin’s business district (Fig. 4). Floods in the business district can impact the transportation system, electric grid and telecommunications networks, which all impact local businesses.
Dublin is aware of its risk and has developed a 2019-2024 adaptation plan that budgets the construction of new flood defenses and includes a flood risk management strategy. Property managers and real estate investors can engage with the surrounding community to support these regional resilience-building efforts that will also mitigate the risk to their own assets.
Heat Stress: Shattered Records Becoming the New Norm
Heat stress is a growing concern for Europe. The region experienced two recording-breaking heat waves within two months during summer 2019, affecting public health, hindering productivity and contributing to train delays, with implications for economies across the continent. The decade from 2009-2018 was the warmest on record, with temperatures around 1.7°C above the pre-industrial level in Europe.
Our analysis shows that offices and commercial spaces throughout Europe will experience heat waves that are 21 days longer on average compared to 1975-2005. Based on Four Twenty Seven’s data, Southern Europe is expected to experience the highest increase in the duration of heat waves, with projections showing an additional month of temperatures above the 90th percentile every year in Madrid (Fig. 5). Heat waves will also bring higher temperatures, with an 8% average increase in maximum temperatures by mid-century, and over 10% in Paris, for example. This will manifest in cities experiencing climates typically associated with locations significantly further south. For example, a recent study noted that “Madrid’s climate in 2050 will resemble Marrakech’s climate today, Stockholm will resemble Budapest, London to Barcelona.”
The urban heat island effect and worsening air quality will exacerbate the impacts of increasing average temperatures in many European cities, with implications for human health and economies. Heat stress can create new cooling needs for buildings and thus increase operations costs at real estate assets. This is particularly true for assets such as data centers and retirement residences, with significant cooling needs. Extreme heat can also affect consumer behavior, reducing the desire to window shop outside, for example, but increasing the visitors to air-conditioned facilities such as shopping malls. In the long run, increasing average temperatures could have indirect effects on real estate markets as consumer preferences shift.
To reduce their vulnerability, many cities are adapting to extreme heat by increasing green spaces and the use of reflective materials to reduce the albedo effect, for example. Property managers can model on-site adaptations after these examples, while also contributing to wider regional efforts that reduce the urban heat island effect to preserve public health and economic activity.
Real estate assets are already experiencing the impact of extreme heat and floods across Europe and the real estate industry will continue to be impacted by climate change in the near-term. There is an urgent need for resilience-building across assets to ensure business continuity and reduce financial losses. Understanding asset risk is an essential first step towards building resilience. Asset owners and managers can leverage asset-level risk exposure data, alongside awareness of regional adaptation efforts, to improve the resilience of their assets and engage communities around shared resilience priorities.
 This analysis does not capture coastal flooding for areas further than five kilometers inland from the coast. This limitation may under-represent risk in coastal-adjacent, low-lying areas that extend inland like Amsterdam.
Four Twenty Seven’s ever-growing database now includes close to one million corporate sites and covers 2000 publicly-traded companies. We offer equity risk scoring and real asset screening services to help investors and corporations leverage this data.
Why do climate risks matter for real assets and how can we invest in a more resilient future? There is a growing need to ensure that infrastructure assets and real estate are built to withstand the increasingly severe weather events we experience in a changing climate. Four Twenty Seven Strategic Advisor, Josh Sawislak, discusses how different types of uncertainty will influence physical climate impacts and transition risk outcomes, and how asset design can consider these impacts. Innovating in climate resilience is essential to reduce risk management costs, but it also provides economic opportunities around job creation and product development.
Four Twenty Seven offers real asset screenings and data on climate risk in real estate to inform climate risk mitigation and investments in resilience. Read our paper on Climate Risk, Real Estate, and the Bottom Line or our blogs on scenario analysis for physical climate risk to learn more about these topics.
In this second installment of our blog series of scenario analysis, we focus on how investors can start exploring impacts on portfolios of listed equities/fixed income with existing climate risk analytics. The series provides our current reflections on how corporations and financial institutions can integrate physical climate risk into scenario analysis. The first installment, on foundations, focuses on important characteristics of climate science that affect how climate data can be used to inform scenario analysis for economic and financial risk. A forthcoming post will discuss scenario analysis at the asset level for real asset investments and corporate facilities.
Scenario Analysis Serves Different Purposes
Scenario analysis serves different purposes for real asset investors and for equity or fixed income investors. When looking at a single real asset, scenario analysis can be used to inform very concrete decisions regarding the asset, working directly with the asset operator: whether and what flood protections to put in place, insurance requirements, anticipated impacts on operational costs from water and energy consumption, etc.
In contrast, for an equity or fixed income portfolio, investors’ influence on the resilience of the underlying asset (e.g. a corporation or a sovereign entity) is much more limited. In a previous publication we discussed the importance of shareholder engagement with corporations as a key channel for investors to help raise awareness of rising risks from climate change, and encourage companies to invest in responsible corporate adaptation measures. Investors, however, would be hard pressed to run scenario analysis on individual portfolio companies themselves, and disclosures from corporations on scenario analysis remain weak and fragmented.
Meanwhile, prudential authorities in Europe have been signalling expectations that insurers and banks perform scenario analysis on their portfolio to examine potential impacts of climate change, to understand how different climate-driven outcomes might prevent the insurers and lenders from meeting their financial obligations. Most recently, in April, the Bank of England Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) released a proposed set of specifications for scenario analysis that includes some simplified assumptions on climate impacts on financial portfolios.
In this piece we examine how available climate risk analytics can be leveraged to inform early attempts at developing stress test assumptions and simulate potential outcomes on investment portfolios aligned with the relative exposure of corporations by sectors and by regions.
Climate Risk Analytics for Equities/Fixed Income
We leverage our data on corporate physical risk exposure to determine what assumptions can be made in this type of early stress test. In this piece, we analyze the climate risk scores for 1730 of the largest companies in MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI). This physical risk assessment is based on the exposure of the underlying database of about a million facilities globally.
We score each company on three components of physical climate risk: Operations Risk, Supply Chain Risk and Market Risk.
Scores are normalized, with 0 being the least exposed and 100 being the most exposed. (For more details, please refer to our previous report Physical Climate Risk in Equity Portfolios as well as our Solutions page)
In line with considerations of relevant time horizons and of impacts being locked in over the climatic short term (detailed in Part 1), our standard equity risk score data considers projected climate impacts in the 2030-2040 time period under a single RCP scenario, RCP 8.5 (the worst case scenario, also known as business as usual), but leverages several climate models.
From Climate Hazard Exposure to Financial Impacts
Studies of how physical climate hazards translate into financial impacts at the company level are scarce. While a growing body of research explores the complex relationships between climate hazards and economic impacts, which vary by sector and by region, academic research on the relationship between climate events and corporate/stock performance, at scale, is still limited. Our approach focuses on leveraging what can be estimated in a robust, data-driven way: relative exposure of companies to climate hazards.
Our analysis of global corporations shows the relative exposure of industries to climate related risks across all three dimensions: operations risk, market risk and supply chain risk (Table 1). This table shows the sectors with the highest exposure, including manufacturing, infrastructure (utility, energy, transportation), and industries with high dependency on natural resources (food, apparel).
Table 1. Industries most exposed to physical climate risks . Source: Four Twenty Seven.
Services, not shown in the table, are not only less exposed, they’re also far less sensitive to changes in climatic conditions, with the exception of the financial sector, which holds the risk of all the other sectors in its investment, lending or insurance portfolios. Note that real estate is not included in this analysis, but data on regional exposure in that sector can be found in our white paper on climate risk in real estate.
These differentiated impacts by sectors can lay the foundations for a stress test, as industry risk levels can be used to set initial assumptions on sector-wide impacts. Following the example set out by the Bank of England’s PRA, for example, investors could assume that sectors with high exposure might see a 10% or 20% drop in value, whereas sectors with medium exposure would see half of that impact. These assumptions are not intended to substitute for financial impact modeling, but provide a shortcut to test how a portfolio might perform under climate-driven duress.
Drivers of Exposure to Physical Climate Risk
While some sectors overlap with those examined in scenario analysis exercises for transition risk, such as utilities and energy, other sectors with high exposure are not typically included in scenario analysis, like tech manufacturing or pharmaceuticals. Understanding the nuances of the risk pathways in each sector and their relative exposure to different hazards is critical to refining assumptions and developing models that can quantify value-at-risk by sector with some accuracy.
Manufacturing companies in the tech sector rely on complex value chains that can be interrupted by extreme weather events, particularly in Asia, which is a region highly exposed to typhoons and extreme precipitation. They also often produce expensive and water sensitive products using costly machinery and can incur costs and damages from extreme events on site. Pharmaceuticals are particularly exposed because of the prevalence of their manufacturing in water-stressed regions (India, California) and regions highly exposed to hurricanes & typhoons. For example, damaged manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico had rippling impacts on pharmaceutical operations globally during Hurricane Maria in 2017. Pharmaceuticals is also one of the groups with the most weight in the MSCI ACWI, making this exposure particularly significant (Fig 2).
Figure 2. The average company risk score by GICS Industry Group, with Operations Risk on the y-axis and Market & Supply Chain Risk on the x-axis. Red represents those industries with the highest exposure, green represents those with the lowest exposure and the size of the bubble signifies an industry’s weight in the MSCI ACWI. Source: Four Twenty Seven.
In the utility sector, the nature of the exposure is very different from that observed in transition risk analysis: carbon neutral power generation can be as exposed as thermal generation – for example due to water stress or floods for hydro facilities. In addition, utilities rely on expensive equipment, such as cables, poles, fuel storage and pipes that are often exposed to severe weather and sensitive to extreme conditions. Their operations are also resource-intensive, relying heavily on energy and water for cooling. They can experience operations disruptions during peak energy demands or due to equipment damage during storms.
The exposure of the automobiles & components sector has been illustrated by recent flooding in Japan. Automobile companies rely on manufacturing processes and machinery that can be interrupted due to flooding or hurricane damage, but their reliance on employee labor also makes these companies vulnerable to the wider regional impacts of extreme events. For example, during Japan’s extreme flooding in July 2018, Mazda was forced to halt operations at some of its facilities that were not physically damaged themselves, because its employees could not travel safely to work.
Climate change calls for a better understanding of impacts of physical hazards on financial markets, which remains a topic largely unexplored. Yet as regulators push insurers and banks towards the integration of climate scenarios into stress testing, robust, data-driven views on the relative exposure of sectors or regions provide a helpful foundation from which to explore the potential impacts on equity and fixed income portfolios.
Over time, better data will become available as academic and industry providers develop models that capture the nuances of climate impacts on different industries and geographies, but also as companies make a concerted effort to disclose better data on their past and anticipated financial exposure to extreme weather and climate-related events.
Four Twenty Seven’s data products and portfolio analytics support risk reporting and enable investors and businesses to understand their exposure to physical climate risks across asset classes.
The TCFD Status Report published early June 2019 reiterates the need for corporations and financial institutions to perform scenario analysis in a context of uncertainty over climate risk. It notes that while about 56% of companies use scenario analysis, only 33% perform scenario analysis for physical risk. Even fewer firms (43% of those using scenario analysis) disclose their assumptions and findings. The report contains useful case studies, but most focus on transition risk.
Yet a growing number of corporations and financial institutions recognize the need to integrate physical risk into scenario analysis and to develop resilience strategies that address imminent challenges from climate impacts. For example, the most recent IPCC report illustrating the impact of 1.5˚C increase in global temperatures on mean temperatures, extreme temperatures, extreme precipitation and sea levels shows that there will be significant implications for economies even with a 1.5˚C increase in global temperatures. This is still a best case scenario compared to impacts of 2˚C or 2.5˚C warming.
Scenario analysis for physical risk is fundamentally different from transition risk in its challenges and assumptions. This blog series provides our current reflections on how corporations and financial institutions can integrate physical climate risk into scenario analysis. This first blog presents the Foundations, focusing on important characteristics of climate science that affect how climate data can be used to inform scenario analysis for economic and financial risk. The next blog focuses on Equity Markets, with concrete examples of how available data can inform financial stakeholders ready to start putting scenario analysis into action. A forthcoming post will discuss scenario analysis at the asset level for real asset investments and corporate facilities.
The physical impacts of climate change encompass a range of direct and indirect hazards caused or exacerbated by the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Previous publications such as Advancing TFCD Guidance for Physical Risks and Opportunities, for which Four Twenty Seven was a lead author, provide background on these hazards as they pertain to corporate value chains and economic activities. Further information is also available in Cicero’s excellent report, Shades of Climate Risk. Categorizing climate risk for investors.
Rapid developments in atmospheric and climate science over the past 30 years enable us to understand how these physical hazards will evolve over time due to climate change. Sophisticated global climate models project expected changes in key physical phenomena affected by greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration: heat, humidity, precipitation, ocean temperature, ocean acidification, etc. Like any other models, climate models have limitations in their accuracy and ability to correctly simulate complex and interrelated phenomena. However, it is worth noting that since 1973 models have been consistently successful in projecting within the range of warming that we have experienced in the past twenty years. More details on climate data and uncertainties from global climate models can be found in our report, Using Climate Data.
The Bad News: Impacts Are Locked In
Global climate models project different possible outcomes using scenarios called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). RCP scenarios capture differing GHG emissions trajectories based on a representation of plausible global policy outcomes, without specifying the details of the underlying policies that could generate this outcome. These scenarios show that GHG emissions generated over the coming decades will influence the severity of impacts in the long-term, but also that we are already committed to some impacts through 2100 and beyond.
This is particularly noticeable over the “short term.” When looking at the next 10 to 20 years, projections for temperature and other physical hazards do not present significant differences under different emissions scenarios (Fig 1). This is due to the massive inertia of the Earth’s systems, and the life expectancy of the stock of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. To put it simply, significantly reducing GHG emissions is akin to applying the brakes on a rapidly moving truck. It won’t stop instantaneously. Even if we were to stop emitting GHG altogether, climate change would persist. In the words of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), climate change “represents a substantial multi-century commitment created by the past, present, and future emissions of CO2.”
This is by no mean an invitation to give up on reducing GHG emissions. Quite the opposite. Emission reductions are critical to curbing long term impacts and avoiding irreversible effects to our environment (Fig. 2). But for organizations looking at climate data and scenario analysis for risk management and strategy, with a focus on the coming decade(s), this is a critical fact to understand.
Aside from RCP-driven scenarios, there is, of course, a broad range of possible increases in temperature (and other climate hazards) even when looking at the 2030-2040 time frame. These plausible differences are not so much policy-driven as science-driven, demonstrating the different possible responses from the Earth’s systems to the existing stock of GHG.
These differences have significant implications for businesses and investors. For example, a model of sea level rise developed in 2018 incorporates accelerated rates of melting and recent advancements in modelling ice-cliff dynamics to capture extreme risk of coastal flooding. The model shows the Atlantic rising by 1.2m (3.9ft) by 2060 on the Florida coastline, which would equate to widespread flooding of coastal properties with potential domino effects on real estate prices across the state (Fig 3). The ‘intermediate’ scenario, however, most often used for planning, predicts only a 55cm (1.8ft) rise in water levels. While reducing GHG emissions does reduce the risk of more extreme sea level rise millennia into the future, year after year, scientists find that the Antarctic is warming faster than anybody predicted, and there is increasing concern that the process of ice sheet melt may be too far advanced to be stopped.
Thus, performing scenario analysis where the key variable is GHG emission reduction targets may not be an accurate representation of the range of possible outcomes for the near future. Rather, looking at high and low warming projections across a large set of models to understand the range of potential outcomes (independent of the underlying RCP scenario) is a better way to understand potential risk. In other words, physical risks over the next 10-20 years are largely independent from policy decisions and emission pathways, and a rapid, orderly, effective transition to a low-carbon economy could still come with massive physical impacts as these processes are already under way, fueled by the past 150 years of GHG emissions.
The Worse News: Tipping Points
Another challenge is that climate scientists are not currently able to model certain possible impacts from climate change, commonly known as “tipping points.” Tipping points is a catch-all term for a wide range of phenomena that may accelerate feedbacks due to climate change, though the timing or probability of their manifestation is currently not well understood. The phenomena are known as tipping points because past a certain threshold, they may not be reversible, even with a dramatic reduction in GHG emissions. Tipping points of most concern to the scientific community are presented in this report from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Some tipping points catalyze “feedback loops” which can worsen and dramatically accelerate climate change beyond human control. Such is the case, for example, with melting ice sheets, which would not only lead to catastrophic sea level rise, but would also further heat up the planet as the poles’ albedo (reflectivity) is reduced after the ice disappears. Thawing permafrost could lead to massive amounts of methane, a particularly powerful GHG, to be released from the frozen tundra into the atmosphere (in addition to many direct impacts for local communities, infrastructure and ecosystems in the region).
Tipping points further reinforce uncertainty about severity and timing of these extreme impacts and the limitations of using RCP scenarios to understand the range of outcomes for physical risk.
Another source of uncertainty for physical climate impacts are knock-on effects, or ‘indirect hazards,’ from the primary expression of global warming (rising temperature and humidity), ranging from biodiversity losses and ecosystem collapses, human health impacts, impacts on crop yields, pests and soil, impacts on human society, increased violence, and rates of war and migration, etc. (Fig 4)
These indirect or second-order hazards are as relevant as first-order impacts to understand the implications of physical climate change on economic outcomes, but they’re not captured by RCP scenarios and many require stand-alone models that cannot easily be integrated into one clean set of scenarios.
Scenario analysis is often approached from the perspective of transition risk, where policy developments and GHG emission targets are the key drivers of risk pathways over the next 10 to 30 years. Physical risk, however, requires a different approach. Impacts over the coming decades are largely locked-in and are only marginally influenced by GHG emission pathways. In contrast, uncertainty looms large regarding how severe these physical hazards will be, and exploring a range of possible outcomes for physical risk, including looking at tail-risks, provides important insights for risk management and financial analysis. In summary, the current state of scientific knowledge and the nature of the Earth’s atmospheric systems call for the developments of scenarios that are decoupled from transition/policy scenarios and instead focused on key scientific drivers of uncertainty and risks that may be experienced regardless of policy decisions over the short to medium term (2020-2040).
While efforts to develop easy-to-use tools for physical risk analysis are nascent, organizations can still extract important insights from climate data and leverage estimates of risk exposure across portfolios. Our next blog in this series provides examples of how financial institutions can leverage data on physical risk exposure in equities to inform some early scenario analysis in equity markets.
Four Twenty Seven’s data products and portfolio analytics support risk reporting and enable investors and businesses to understand their exposure to physical climate risks across asset classes.