Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors
Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.
While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.
Front and Center
Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.
According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:
|Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood")||Top Global Risks (by "Impact")|
|#1||Extreme weather||#1||Climate action failure|
|#2||Climate action failure||#2||Weapons of mass destruction|
|#3||Natural disasters||#3||Biodiversity loss|
|#4||Biodiversity loss||#4||Extreme weather|
|#5||Humanmade environmental disasters||#5||Water crises|
With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?
According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.
While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.
The Stranded Assets Dilemma
If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.
Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.
The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.
– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis
The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:
- Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
- Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
- New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.
A Tough Road Ahead
In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.
These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.
Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:
- Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
- Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
- An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.
The Ball Is In Our Court
It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.
How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.
A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector
A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector
In a few decades, greenhouse gases (GHGs)—chiefly in the form of CO₂ emissions—have risen at unprecedented rates as a result of global growth and resource consumption.
To uncover the major sectors where these emissions originate, this graphic from Our World in Data pulls the latest data from 2016 courtesy of Climate Watch and the World Resources Institute, when total emissions reached 49.4 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalents (CO₂e).
Sources of GHG Emissions
Global GHG emissions can be roughly traced back to four broad categories: energy, agriculture, industry, and waste. Overwhelmingly, almost three-quarters of GHG emissions come from our energy consumption.
|Sector||Global GHG Emissions Share|
|Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use||18.4%|
Within each category, there are even more granular breakdowns to consider. We’ll take a closer look at the top two, which collectively account for over 91% of global GHG emissions.
Within this broad category, we can further break things down into sub-categories like transport, buildings, and industry-related energy consumption, to name a few.
|Sub-sector||GHG Emissions Share||Further breakdown|
|Transport||16.2%||• Road 11.9%
• Aviation 1.9%
• Rail 0.4%
• Pipeline 0.3%
• Ship 1.7%
|Buildings||17.5%||• Residential 10.9%
• Commercial 6.6%
|Industry energy||24.2%||• Iron & Steel 7.2%
• Non-ferrous metals 0.7%
• Machinery 0.5%
• Food and tobacco 1.0%
• Paper, pulp & printing 0.6%
• Chemical & petrochemical (energy) 3.6%
• Other industry 10.6%
|Agriculture & Fishing energy||1.7%||-|
|Unallocated fuel combustion||7.8%||-|
|Fugitive emissions from energy production||5.8%||• Coal 1.9%
• Oil & Natural Gas 3.9%
Billions of people rely on petrol and diesel-powered vehicles to get around. As a result, they contribute to almost 12% of global emissions.
But this challenge is also an opportunity: the consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could significantly help shift the world away from fossil fuel use, both for passenger travel and for freight—although there are still speedbumps to overcome.
Meanwhile, buildings contribute 17.5% of energy-related emissions overall—which makes sense when you realize the stunning fact that cities use 60-80% of the world’s annual energy needs. With megacities (home to 10+ million people) ballooning every day to house the growing urban population, these shares may rise even further.
Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use
The second biggest category of emissions is the sector that we rely on daily for the food we eat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, methane from cows and other livestock contribute the most to emissions, at 5.8% total. These foods also have some of the highest carbon footprints, from farm to table.
|Sub-sector||GHG Emissions Share|
|Livestock & Manure||5.8%|
Another important consideration is just how much land our overall farming requirements take up. When significant areas of forest are cleared for grazing and cropland, there’s a clear link between our land use and rising global emissions.
Although many of these energy systems are still status quo, the global energy mix is ripe for change. As the data shows, the potential points of disruption have become increasingly clear as the world moves towards a green energy revolution.
For a different view on global emissions data, see which countries generate the most CO₂ emissions per capita.
Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome
The pace of mainstream EV adoption has been slow, but is expected to accelerate as automakers overcome these five critical challenges.
Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome
Many would agree that a global shift to electric vehicles (EV) is an important step in achieving a carbon-free future. However, for various reasons, EVs have so far struggled to break into the mainstream, accounting for just 2.5% of global auto sales in 2019.
To understand why, this infographic from Castrol identifies the five critical challenges that EVs will need to overcome. All findings are based on a 2020 survey of 10,000 consumers, fleet managers, and industry specialists across eight significant EV markets.
The Five Challenges to EV Adoption
Cars have relied on the internal combustion engine (ICE) since the early 1900s, and as a result, the ownership experience of an EV can be much more nuanced. This results in the five critical challenges we examine below.
Challenge #1: Price
The top challenge is price, with 63% of consumers believing that EVs are beyond their current budget. Though many cheaper EV models are being introduced, ICE vehicles still have the upper hand in terms of initial affordability. Note the emphasis on “initial”, because over the long term, EVs may actually be cheaper to maintain.
Taking into account all of the running and maintenance costs of [an EV], we have already reached relative cost parity in terms of ownership.
—President, EV consultancy, U.S.
For starters, an EV drivetrain has significantly fewer moving parts than an ICE equivalent, which could result in lower repair costs. Government subsidies and the cost of electricity are other aspects to consider.
So what is the tipping price that would convince most consumers to buy an EV? According to Castrol, it differs around the world.
|Country||EV Adoption Tipping Price ($)|
Many budget-conscious buyers also rely on the used market, in which EVs have little presence. The rapid speed of innovation is another concern, with 57% of survey respondents citing possible depreciation as a factor that prevented them from buying an EV.
Challenge #2: Charge Time
Most ICE vehicles can be refueled in a matter of minutes, but there is much more uncertainty when it comes to charging an EV.
Using a standard home charger, it takes 10-20 hours to charge a typical EV to 80%. Even with an upgraded fast charger (3-22kW power), this could still take up to 4 hours. The good news? Next-gen charging systems capable of fully charging an EV in 20 minutes are slowly becoming available around the world.
Similar to the EV adoption tipping price, Castrol has also identified a charge time tipping point—the charge time required for mainstream EV adoption.
|Country||Charge Time Tipping Point (minutes)|
If the industry can achieve an average 31 minute charge time, EVs could reach $224 billion in annual revenues across these eight markets alone.
Challenge #3: Range
Over 70% of consumers rank the total range of an EV as being important to them. However, today’s affordable EV models (below the average tipping price of $35,947) all have ranges that fall under 200 miles.
Traditional gas-powered vehicles, on the other hand, typically have a range between 310-620 miles. While Tesla offers several models boasting a 300+ mile range, their purchase prices are well above the average tipping price.
For the majority of consumers to consider an EV, the following range requirements will need to be met by vehicle manufacturers.
|Country||Range Tipping Point (miles)|
Fleet managers, those who oversee vehicles for services such as deliveries, reported a higher average EV tipping range of 341 miles.
Challenge #4: Charging Infrastructure
Charging infrastructure is the fourth most critical challenge, with 64% of consumers saying they would consider an EV if charging was convenient.
Similar to charge times, there is much uncertainty surrounding infrastructure. For example, 65% of consumers living in urban areas have a charging point within 5 miles of their home, compared to just 26% for those in rural areas.
Significant investment in public charging infrastructure will be necessary to avoid bottlenecks as more people adopt EVs. China is a leader in this regard, with billions spent on EV infrastructure projects. The result is a network of over one million charging stations, providing 82% of Chinese consumers with convenient access.
Challenge #5: Vehicle Choice
The least important challenge is increasing the variety of EV models available. This issue is unlikely to persist for long, as industry experts believe 488 unique models will exist by 2025.
Despite variety being less influential than charge times or range, designing models that appeal to various consumer niches will likely help to accelerate EV adoption. Market research will be required, however, because attitudes towards EVs vary by country.
|Country||Consumers Who Believe EVs Are More Fashionable Than ICE Vehicles (%)|
A majority of Chinese and Indian consumers view EVs more favorably than traditional ICE vehicles. This could be the result of a lower familiarity with cars in general—in 2000, for example, China had just four million cars spread across its population of over one billion.
EVs are the least alluring in the U.S. and Norway, which coincidentally have the highest GDP per capita among the eight countries surveyed. These consumers may be accustomed to a higher standard of quality as a result of their greater relative wealth.
So When Do EVs Become Mainstream?
As prices fall and capabilities improve, Castrol predicts a majority of consumers will consider buying an EV by 2024. Global mainstream adoption could take slightly longer, arriving in 2030.
Caution should be exhibited, as these estimates rely on the five critical challenges being solved in the short-term future. This hinges on a number of factors, including technological change, infrastructure investment, and a shift in consumer attitudes.
New challenges could also arise further down the road. EVs require a significant amount of minerals such as copper and lithium, and a global increase in production could put strain on the planet’s limited supply.
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