More Bad Climate News This Christmas

By Woody Chan 18 December, 2019

Want to stay in blissful ignorance this festive season? If not, face the music with our review of recent climate reports

Things are worse than you think - sea levels are rising faster than expected & by 2050, there will be extreme sea level events every year; Asian capitals are exposed but how ready are we really?
Despite the terrible impacts, global greenhouse gas emissions increased again by 1.8Gt in the past year, leaving us with just 11 years to cut 14.3Gt by 2030 so we limit warming to +2°C by 2100
What's more, the Arctic may be emitting as much as Russia due to thawing permafrost; with COP25 struggling & the US leaving the Paris Agreement, Asia has to step up & adapt to the new climate

Yet again, bad news on our climate crisis just before Christmas. It’s no surprise that we are still not on track to closing our emissions gap with our emissions rising another 3.4% this past year. The consequences are going to be disastrous but it could be even worse given instabilities in the Arctic. With Asia set to be hit hardest, can it take the lead in climate adaptation this coming decade and prevent its capitals from sinking?

You can wallow in blissful ignorance this Christmas but if you’d rather take the blinkers off then you cannot miss the key reports that came out in the past month, from the IPCC to UNEP. With some of these over a thousand pages long – we’ve got you covered. Here are our five top takeaways.

1. Asia under water? Sea level rising faster than we thought

Back in 2014, the IPCC came out with sea level projections as part of its Assessment Report 5 (AR5). Now, five years on in its Special Report On Ocean & Cryosphere, it turns out the seas are rising faster than expected. For instance, there is medium confidence that for a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), projections of global sea level rise by 2100 are 0.1m greater than in AR5 due to a larger contribution from the Antarctic Ice Sheet. And just in case you haven’t heard – this scenario is now our new base case.

Many Asian capitals & financial hubs to be impacted

Threats posed by sea level rise and storm surges are going to have disastrous consequences for Asian cities, many of which are along the coast and capitals or major financial hubs, from Bangkok to Shanghai. We have already looked at what this could mean for Hong Kong.

You may also have come across some shocking maps from Climate Central and while they are not perfect, they give a good indication of where we are heading.

2. Extreme sea level events every year by 2050

Remember Typhoon Mangkhut? Or Hurricane Katrina? These extreme sea level events have been historically rare but are now projected to happen at least once every year by 2050 in all scenarios, especially in tropical regions where we in Hong Kong are located. Already we have seen two super typhoons in two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018.

“By 2100 Hong Kong should be expecting a Typhoon Mangkhut every year”

Don’t just take it from us. We were lucky to have talked to the head of the Hong Kong Observatory recently , who informed us that by 2100 HK should be expecting a Typhoon Mangkhut every year. Also, he warns of a 1m sea level rise and total storm tides of more than 7m (aligning with our new base case). How ready are we really?

3. Not on track – need to stop emitting & cut back

All this means we should be drastically cutting down on our emissions but as the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2019 shows, that is far from reality. Instead of going down, our global greenhouse gas emissions actually increased again from 53.5GtCO2e to 55.3GtCO2e in the past year. This leaves us with just 11 years to cut 14.3GtCO2e by 2030 if we are to meet the Paris Agreement target of +2°C by 2100.

4. The science is correct – 50-year projections from 70s proven right

We can already hear some climate deniers crying “fake news”… so how good are these projections?

According to a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letter, almost every peer-reviewed climate model of human-caused global temperature rise dating back to 1970 lines up with the warming we see today. Out of the 17 models analysed by the authors, 14 correctly predicted how much the earth would warm based on how much CO2 was in the atmosphere. So they have been right on the money all this time.

If we keep dragging our feet, we will hit 4.5°C & the impacts will be disastrous

Not only does this debunk climate deniers’ claim that climate models are unreliable and inaccurate, but it further underlines the message from the IPCC and UNEP reports. The science is correct: if we keep dragging our feet, we will hit 4.5°C this century and the impacts will be disastrous.

5. Oh no we forgot about feedback loops

As if this weren’t bad enough, enter feedback loops, which are set to kick in to make the planet go haywire.

Take the Arctic for instance. According to the new 2019 Arctic Report Card, the Arctic may have crossed a threshold to become a net carbon emitter due to thawing permafrost, which is carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24% of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass. The report concludes that the Arctic and other permafrost ecosystems could already be releasing as much as 1.1GtCO2e to 2.2GtCO2e per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.

The Arctic may have crossed a threshold to become a net carbon emitter due to thawing permafrost

What’s more, 2100 is not a cut-off – we face an ultimate sea level rise of between 4–10m or more

What’s more we have to remember that climate change does not stop in 2100, despite many studies and policies using the end of the century for projections. In reality, beyond 2100, the climate crisis deepens and we face an ultimate sea level rise of between 4–10 meters or more.

Asia most exposed – need to step up

As those at COP25 struggle with mitigation actions and as the US withdraws from the Paris Agreement, it’s down to Asia to step up. We need to think radical and adapt to the new climate. We need to build resilience. We need to protect our assets and infrastructure.

But for this Christmas, why not start by looking at your own consumption and footprints – from pets to baking?


Further Reading

  • Time To Get Radical – Alarm bells are ringing for climate change but we are still wedded to the ‘norm’ and on track to miss even the 2°C target. With time running out and serious implications for Asia’s water resources, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan calls for more flashes of brilliance
  • HK Submerged? Is This Map For Real? – Rising sea level is a catastrophe waiting to happen but we have to avoid alarmism & choose the right map to visualise the risks. Getting the right scenarios also matter. Find out more in our review
  • Thirsty And Underwater: Rising Risks In Greater Bay Area – How will water & climate risks, including rising sea levels & droughts, threaten the already water-stressed Greater Bay Area (GBA)? CWR’s Tan & Mirando explain in their latest CLSA report and highlight companies’ failure in climate risk disclosures
  • No-Sense Climate Strategies: From DSD To HSBC – Hong Kong’s shortsighted & unrealistic climate plans will leave key assets & infrastructure exposed that mean the government, companies, investors and the public are even more exposed. China Water Risk’s Dharisha Mirando & Debra Tan expand
  • Hot, Thirsty, Sweaty & Wet: HK’s Future Down The Drain? – China Water Risk’s Woody Chan & Debra Tan look beyond current tensions and see very real threats to Hong Kong’s future from climate change. Get ready for a hot, thirsty, sweaty & wet future
  • Confronting Storms & Climate Risk In HK – Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut have wreaked havoc in the Greater Bay Area but Dr. Faith Chan from the University of Nottingham Ningbo believes these climate risks can be confronted, with Hong Kong leading the way

More on Christmas

  • More Green, More Money? – Companies’ participation is vital to combat climate & water risks – what if they can access to more capital at the same time? CWR’s Ronald Leung illustrates the secret lies in active investor engagement
  • Sustainable Fashion Today: A Sweet But Short High – 2019 has been a busy year for sustainable fashion but with sweet but short highs as CWR’s Dawn McGregor highlights. Given fashion’s huge climate impact, McGregor laments the need for more strategic solutions
  • The Hidden Cost Of Our Christmas Cards & Crackers – Thinking of sending Christmas cards? Think again as our Yuanchao Xu expands on the hidden costs and argues that it’s time to go circular with our festive paper habits
  • Think Before You Bake! – Mince pies, gingerbread men, Christmas pudding… all delicious Christmas foods! Yet, did you know baking them is highly water-intensive? Our Dharisha Mirando ponders and asks us to rethink our recipes
  • Pets – Cute But Are They Green? – Did you know that the water footprint of a golden retriever’s diet is 80% that of a China diet? CWR’s dog lover Chien Tat Low explores the environmental impacts of rising pet ownership

Woody Chan
Author: Woody Chan
Previously, Woody worked for CWR from 2016 to April 2020. At CWR, Woody conducted research on the water-energy-climate nexus and related hidden risks including rare earths and other critical raw materials essential to the clean tech and high tech industries. His analysis can be found in the 2017 CLSAU Blue Book on “Toxic Phones: China controls the core” which examines pollution driven regulatory risks of minerals behind the mobile interface from the touchscreen to vibrations & sound. During his time at CWR, he gave TEDx talks on water and climate risks as well as presented at other educational events. Born in Hong Kong, Woody graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2016 with a BA in Geography.
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