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) (Fig. 4).
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 5)
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.
As climate change impacts worsen, the need for solutions to support adaptation grows. Founder & CEO, Emilie Mazzacurati, joined Molly Wood on Marketplace Tech to discuss climate risk analytics. The conversation covers the importance of understanding climate risk exposure and how companies leverage climate data to prepare for climate hazards. While recent findings on sea level rise and other climate impacts can be daunting, there is hope for adaptation that builds resilience across sectors.
For more on climate risk and resilience in the private sector, explore our climate risk analytics and read our reports on Climate Risk in Real Estate and Engaging with Corporates to Build Adaptive Capacity.
What does the future hold?
New research on sea level rise emphasizes the potential for dire changes over the course of the century. Recent satellite data suggests that warming water is causing East Antarctica to melt more quickly than previously thought and a study released in early May found that almost a quarter of West Antarctica’s ice is thinning, with its largest glaciers shrinking five times faster than in 1992. A study based on expert opinion found that there is the possibility of sea levels rising by 2 meters (6.5ft) under an extreme scenario of 5˚C global temperature increase. This would mean an area of land as big as Libya would be lost, and up to 2.5% of the population globally could be displaced.
Extreme scenarios of sea level rise will have severe impacts on our cities and economies. Sea level rise is happening today to a lesser extent; however it is already having tangible impacts on real estate values. This means increasing costs for property owners and tenants, but it also has far-reaching market impacts on access to and cost of insurance, fluctuations in market values and potential increase in local taxes to fund adaptation efforts.
Of all U.S. states, Florida is expected to experience the greatest consequences of sea level rise. Between 1960 and 2015, sea levels along the Florida coast rose by 10-15 cm (4-6 in), and the range of projections vary wide looking a few decades out, with projections ranging from 33 to 122cm (13-48 in) by 2060.
Widespread flooding risk in Florida
65,000 homes in Florida worth $35 billion are expected to be underwater or impacted daily by high tides in 2040. From soaring insurance premiums and increasing risk of disclosure to declining property value and diminishing tax revenue, sea level rise is already challenging property owners, investors and banks. Among other impacts, the value of single-family homes in Miami-Dade County that are exposed to sea level rise declined by about $465 million between 2005 and 2016.
Furthermore, climate change is predicted to increase the number of strong hurricanes in the region. These stronger storms will combine with sea level rise to exacerbate the impacts of extreme floods. Storm surge flooding damages buildings and landscaping, destroys merchandise, and can also have wide-reaching economic impacts due to damaged power and transportation infrastructure.
Last but not least, tidal flooding, also called “nuisance” or “sunny day” flooding increased from 1.3 to 3 days per year in the Southeast from 2000-2015. By the end of the century tidal flooding could happen daily. Even with no rainfall, these floods have significant impacts – halting traffic, overburdening drainage systems and damaging infrastructure.
Investors and businesses have a responsibility to understand these risks: using best available science to measure exposure to sea level rise and other flood risks, getting informed on adaptation efforts by local governments, and engaging with local industry associations or other groups to promote further investments in resilience.
Four Twenty Seven works with investors to provide portfolio hotpot screenings and real time due diligence with site-specific data on sea level rise and other climate risks. Contact us for more detailed analysis and site-specific data on sea level rise exposure and detailed analysis of local jurisdictions’ response.
FEBRUARY 19, 2019 – SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – Four Twenty Seven receives Climate Change Business Journal Awards for three climate change risk and resilience projects.
The Climate Change Business Journal (CCBJ) released its 10th annual CCBJ Business Achievement Awards, recognizing outstanding business performance in the climate change industry. CCBJ assesses markets and business opportunities across the emerging climate change industry and acknowledged Four Twenty Seven’s contributions to this field through our global dataset on climate risk in real estate, the development of the California Heat Assessment Tool and our contribution to the EBRD-GCECA initiative on Advancing TCFD Guidance on Physical Climate Risks and Opportunities.
Four Twenty Seven and GeoPhy earned the Technology Merit: Climate Change Risk Modeling and Assessment award for releasing the first global dataset on climate risk exposure in real estate investment trusts (REITs). REITs represent an increasingly important asset class that provides investors with a vehicle for gaining exposure to real estate portfolios. However, real estate is also increasingly affected by risks from climate change. Four Twenty Seven applied its scoring model of asset-level climate risk exposure to GeoPhy’s database of listed REITs holdings to create the first global, scientific assessment of REITs’ exposure to climate risk.
The California Heat Assessment Tool (CHAT) earned the Project Merit: Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience award for its innovative approach to helping public health officials, health professionals and residents understand what changing heat wave conditions mean for them, through a free online platform. CHAT is part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, a state-mandated research program to assess climate change impacts in California, and was developed by Four Twenty Seven, Argos Analytics, the Public Health Institute and Habitat 7 with technical support from the California Department of Public Health.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation initiative on Advancing the TCFD Recommendations on Physical Climate Risks and Opportunities earned the Advancing Best Practices: Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience award. This project culminated in a conference and report building on Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations and providing common foundations for the disclosure of climate-related physical risks and opportunities. It identifies where further research or market action is needed so that detailed, consistent, industry-specific guidelines can be developed on the methodology for quantifying and reporting these risks and opportunities. Four Twenty Seven and Acclimatise provided the technical secretariat that led the working groups and authored the report.
January 15, 2019 – 427 REPORT. Building resilient communities and financial systems requires an understanding of climate risk exposure, but also of how prepared communities are to manage that risk. Understanding the adaptive capacity, or ability to prepare for change and leverage opportunities, of the surrounding area can help businesses and investors determine how exposure to climate risk is likely to impact their assets and what the most strategic responses may be. This report outlines Four Twenty Seven’s framework for creating location-specific actionable assessments of adaptive capacity to inform business and investment decisions and catalyze resilience-building.
Every investment, from real assets to corporate initiatives, is inextricably connected to its surrounding community. From flooded or damaged public infrastructure hindering employee and customer commutes to competition for water resources threatening business operations and urban heat reducing public health, the impacts of climate change on a community will impact the businesses and real estate investors based in that community. Thus, evaluating how acute and chronic physical climate hazards will affect local communities and communities’ responses enables investors and corporations to assess the full extent of the risks they face.
This report, Assessing Local Adaptive Capacity to Understand Corporate and Financial Climate Risks, outlines Four Twenty Seven’s framework for capturing a city’s adaptive capacity in a way that’s actionable for corporations seeking to understand the risk and resilience of their own facilities and for investors assessing risk in their portfolios or screening potential investments. The framework focuses on three main pillars: 1) awareness, 2) economic and financial characteristics, and 3) the quality of adaptation planning and implementation. It is informed by social sciences research, recent work by credit rating agencies, and our experience working directly with cities and investors.
While a city’s adaptive capacity plays a key role in determining whether or not exposure to climate hazards will lead to damage and loss, cities are also likely to find that their resilience to climate impacts is an increasingly important factor in attracting business and financing, as adaptive capacity is more frequently integrated into credit ratings and screening processes. It is valuable for both cities to understand how investors are interpreting adaptive capacity and for investors to understand which factors of local adaptive capacity translate into increased resilience and reduced financial loss for their assets.