Climate Change Impacts in the Next 3 Decades

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The January 2020 report of the McKinsey Global Institute, “Climate risk and response: Physical hazards and socioeconomic impacts” seeks to answer the question: How could climate change impact socioeconomic systems around the world in the next 3 decades?

Researchers Jonathan Woetzel, Dickon Pinner, Hamid Samandari and others claimed that for more than 10 thousand years of relative stability, the earth’s climate is changing.

The average rise in temperature is causing fatal heatwaves, frequent flooding, drought, and sea-level rise. The report seeks to understand to extent of climate change physical risks over the next 3 decades.

Based on the RCP 8.5, the IPCC’s GHG concentration trajectory pathway global average temperatures are projected to increase between 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius in many locations by 2050. RCP 8.5 is the highest emissions-scenario, with no adaptation and mitigation assumed. This scenario is chosen by researchers because it will enable them to assess the physical risks when further decarbonisation is absent.

As of writing this blog post, there is a significant dip in emissions around the world due to the Coronavirus lockdowns.

China’s emissions dropped by 25% in February. Lockdowns in European countries and the United States have reduced fossil fuel emissions as well as shown in satellite images.

However, there are projections that as soon as the pandemic is over, emissions will increase again possibly even more than before as governments and industries revive the economy.

Researchers of the McKinsey report are linking climate models with economic projections to examine nine cases that show exposure to extremes in climate change and the point at which impacts could derail economic and physical activities. The report also provides decision-makers with a new framework and methodology to estimate risks in their own context.

The report contains the following topics and discussions:

Seven characteristics of physical climate risk stand out:

  1. Increasing. Climate risk will increase by 2030 and further into 2050.  
  2. Spatial. Climate hazards manifest locally and vary between and within countries.
  3. Non-stationary. As the earth continues to warm, climate risk is ever-changing and further warming is locked-in for the next decade due to the thermal inertia of the earth’s system.
  4. Nonlinear. Socio-economic impacts from climate change can become non-linear when thresholds are crossed.
  5. Systemic. It will have knock-on effects across regions and sectors.
  6. Regressive. The poorest countries and communities are the most vulnerable.
  7. Under-prepared. Adaptation needs to increase significantly to manage climate risks. Tough choices whether to make infrastructure resilient or move people must be made.

Climate change is already having substantial physical impacts in regions across the world.  

The earth’s temperature has risen by about 1.1 C on average since the 1880s. The temperature rise is shifting towards warmer temperatures and broadening. Meaning that in many locations will see hotter than the usual average, and extremely hot days are becoming more likely. In the Northern Hemisphere, the mean summer temperatures have increased over time. Its share in square km that experienced an extremely hot summer has increased from zero to a half per cent. At the same period that the globe has warmed, in southern parts of Africa and the Arctic average temperature have risen by 0.2 and 0.5 C and by 4 to 4.3 C respectively while the Oceans have warmed less.

Socioeconomic impacts will likely be nonlinear and have knock-on effects.

These socioeconomic impacts include:

  • Livability and workability.  For example, heat street could affect the human’s ability to work outdoors, could be fatal and could shift disease vectors.
  • Food systems.  Food productions could be disrupted by extreme weather events like drought, floods, and heat.
  • Physical assets like building can be damaged or destroyed by extreme weather conditions.
  • Disruptions in infrastructure services, leading to a decline and rise in service cost which can affect other sectors.
  • Natural capital like glaciers, forests, and ocean ecosystems that provides services to communities and economic activity can be affected.

9 Case Studies of Physical Climate Risk Impacts.

The study has examined the direct impacts, adaptation costs, and knock-on effects of climate risk on various geographies and sectors, these include:

  • 1. Increasing heat in India that would affect people’s work,
  • 2. Mediterranean basin in a changing climate,
  • 3. Reliability of food production in breadbasket regions,
  • 4. African farming in a changing precipitation pattern,
  • 5. Florida’s mortgages and markets in the face of coastal inundation threats,
  • 6. Climate impacts on supply chains,
  • 7. Flood risks in coastal cities,
  • 8. Infrastructure resilience, and
  • 9. Reduced dividends on natural capital.

Global socioeconomic impacts could be substantial.  Researchers stated that 105 countries are expected to experience at least one major climate on human, physical and natural capital by 2030. The climate hazards include lethal health waves that could affect between 700 million to 1.2 billion. Urban areas in India and Pakistan are projected to experience this first; global agricultural yield volatility will increase; forest fires, flooding hurricanes and heat can destroy and disrupt infrastructure assets and services. Riverine flooding could double by 2030 and quadruple by 2050; in some parts of there will be a biome shift affecting ecosystems and livelihoods.

Countries with lower GDP per capita levels are generally more exposed. The poorest countries are more exposed as they rely more on outdoor work and natural capital and have less adaptive capacity. Identified countries that are most vulnerable are Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

What can decision-makers do? Governments need to properly asses climate risk, adapt to risk that is locked-in or bound to happen and decarbonize rapidly to reduce further risks. Climate science is showing us that further warming can only be halted by achieving a net-zero emissions.

The 160+ page report provides exhaustive data on climate risks and physical hazards and its socio-economic impacts in various regions across the globe.

What we presented here is only an overview of the report.

The report provides useful data, analysis, and information that is useful for businesses, decision-makers, and governments to help them better assess, adapt, and mitigate the physical risks of climate change today and over the next three decades.

CLICK the link button below to read the entire report:


Woetzel, J., Pinner, D., Samandari, H., Engel, H., Krishnan, M., Boland, B., Powis, C. (2020, January). Climate risk and response: Physical hazards and socioeconomic impacts. McKinsey Global Institute.  Retrieved from

PHOTO CREDIT: Lake Eola, Orlando – Florida, USA by Karl Hipolito

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