Extreme weather events – floods, droughts, storms and wildfires – caused physical and social devastation across the world in 2018. It was the fourth warmest year on record, despite the cooling effect of La Niña. Now there are growing signs that in early 2019, the oscillation is tending towards the warmer El Niño conditions.

The aftermath of extreme events demonstrate the value of preparation and resilience to climate change at national level, local level, even facility-level. Although ambition is often less prominent than mitigation, its growing importance was reflected in the operational guidelines – or rulebook – for the Paris Agreement on climate change.

However, that rulebook, agreed in December 2018, is a compromise that fails to match the urgency of the issue with actual policy guidance. It does not spell out how ambitious subsequent climate pledges must be to achieve the Paris goal of limiting global temperature rises to 2°C – preferably 1.5°C – above pre-industrial levels.

All countries have either signed or ratified the Paris Agreement. But although the US is the only one formally to signal its intention to withdraw, changes in government elsewhere have dented some national resolve on the issue. The UN secretary-general will convene a Climate Summit in September to encourage more ambitious climate policies.

Attempts to implement certain policies have caused backlash in France, Germany, Canada and parts of the US. Elections this year in India, Canada and Australia could subtly shift alliances and climate cohesion.

With global politics in flux, we expect more multilateral climate collaboration such as the China-France ‘Year of the Environment’. France is hosting August’s G7 summit where climate should be a key topic.

Positive steps include Spain’s proposal to generate all its electricity from renewables by 2050, China’s aim to reach 35 per cent by 2030 and the discussions that the Green New Deal might generate in the US. Argentina, Singapore and South Africa are among countries introducing carbon taxes this year.

Three special reports will be released in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One refines emissions measurement, the others consider the effects of climate change on land and on water.

Land degradation and desertification caused by climate change and extreme weather often reduces the efficiency of water and energy use, potentially compromising food security.  Meanwhile the oceans –  natural carbon sinks that absorb about a third of CO2 emissions – are increasing in acidity, and the cryosphere (frozen water) influences climate through melting glaciers, reduced polar ice and rising sea levels.

High temperatures exacerbate allergens, vector-borne diseases, air-pollution, food security and interruptions to medical services. The World Health Organisation says 1.5°C warming will expose 350 million more people to deadly heat stress by 2050 with climate change causing (conservatively) 250,000 additional deaths each year between 2030 and 2050.

This year’s special reports will further confirm the urgency to act. El Niño and rising temperatures will mean more extreme events this year, increasing the pressure to respond with ambition. Governments will feel this pressure through national policies; companies through business strategies; and investors will feel it through portfolio disclosure and environmental, social and governance considerations.

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