Climate change: a risk assessment

London:  An international group of experts have released a new independent assessment of the risks of climate change, designed to support political leaders in their decisions on how much priority to give to the issue. The report, which was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, applies the principles of risk assessment used in finance and national security to better understand and communicate the risks of climate change. It recommends that climate change risk assessments should be updated regularly and communicated to political leaders at the highest level.

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.