An internal report by the world’s number one investor in fossil fuels, JP Morgan, titled Risky business: the climate and macroeconomy, details
the ‘potentially catastrophic outcomes’ of ongoing fossil fuel extraction – and investments therein – ‘which might be impossible to reverse’ and ‘where human life as we know it is threatened’.

The report warns that CO2 emissions are currently on an unsustainable trajectory: ‘If no steps are taken to change the path of emissions, the global temperature will rise, rainfall patterns will change creating both droughts and floods, wildfires will become more frequent and more intense, sea levels will rise, heat-related morbidity and mortality will increase, oceans will become more acidic, and storms and cyclones will become more frequent and more intense. And as these changes occur, life will become more difficult for humans and other species on the planet’, adding that ‘around one million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades’.

While acknowledging the broad range of scientific opinion (‘It is possible to argue that the impact of ongoing emissions on the climate will be modest. It is also possible to argue that it will be catastrophic’), it reveals that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), one of the metrics used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has most likely been seriously underestimated, not just because of fast and slow positive feedback loops, but also because ECS depends on the ‘background climate state’.

The report explains: ‘ECS is very sensitive to the background climate state. Thus, during glacial periods (Friedrich et al) estimate an ECS of 1.8°C, while for interglacial periods they estimate an ECS of 4.9°C. Since we are currently in an interglacial period, this ECS estimate is considerably higher than the mid-point (3.2°C) of the IPCC range.’ Consequently: ‘If CO2 concentrations reach 700 ppm, which is quite likely under a BAU (business as usual) policy (…) and if the ECS is 4.5, the top end of the IPCC’s range, the ultimate increase in the global temperature would be around 11°C. This would create huge challenges for the survival of the human race.’

The report also highlights the dangers of tipping points that could occur at just 2°C, ‘raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures.’

To mitigate climate change, the authors suggest a global carbon tax (and carbon border taxes if necessary) and ‘a move from CO2 intensive sources of energy (coal, oil and gas) to nuclear and renewables’, adding that this is ‘technically feasible, though it would be very challenging from a cost perspective’.

It bleakly concludes: ‘No government seems willing to sacrifice the incomes of their current citizens either in favor of their children and grandchildren or in favor of citizens in other countries. Climate change is a global problem which demands a global response. Despite the efforts of the IPCC, this is not really happening.’


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