We know that climate change is a problem – but how big a problem is it? We have to answer this question before we can make a good decision about how much effort to put into dealing with it.
This report argues that the risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security, financial stability, or public health. That means we should concentrate especially on understanding what is the worst that could happen, and how likely that might be.
The report presents a climate change risk assessment that aims to be holistic, and to be useful to anyone who is interested in understanding the overall scale of the problem. It considers:
- What we are doing to the climate: the future trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions;
- How the climate may change, and what that could do to us – the ‘direct risks’ arising from the climate’s response to emissions;
- What, in the context of a changing climate, we might do to each other – the ‘systemic risks’ arising from the interaction of climate change with systems of trade, governance and security;
- How to value the risks; and
- How to reduce the risks – the elements of a proportionate response.
The risk assessment was informed by a series of meetings, held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in November 2014; Tsinghua University in Beijing in January 2015; the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi in March 2015; and Lancaster House in London in April 2015. These were attended by experts in energy policy, climate science, technology, finance, international security, politics and economics.
The report was commissioned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an independent contribution to the climate change debate. Its contents represent the views of the authors, and should not be taken to represent the views of the UK Government. Sponsorship for the project was also generously provided by the China National Expert Committee on Climate Change, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Global Challenges Foundation, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, and the Willis Research Network.
The report was edited and produced by the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge.
Sir David King, UK Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change
Professor Daniel Schrag, Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, Member of US President’s Advisory Council for Science and Technology
Professor Zhou Dadi, Member of China National Expert Committee on Climate Change, Former President, Energy Research Foundation of the National Development and Reform Commission
Professor Qi Ye, Director of Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, Tsinghua University
Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water
Project management team
Project Manager: Simon Sharpe, Climate Risks Team, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Project workshop hosts
China National Expert Committee on Climate Change