THE POLITICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AREN'T WORKING. Dozens of countries signed on to the Paris agreement five years ago to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. But nation-states have to date failed to implement policies that come close to achieving that goal. This year that failure will lead to suboptimal corporate decision-making, operational business disruptions, and political instability.
The world is currently on pace for a 3.5-degree warming. The world's largest emitter, China, is on a 3-degree path and unwilling to compromise economic growth ambitions on the necessary scale. The US is on a 4-degree pathway that's hard to reverse, no matter who wins the November election. That leaves India as the only country among the top three polluters with a national plan consistent with 2 degrees, though India is already falling behind its targets.
Even countries whose political leaders have ambitious climate plans won't have it easy. Some will face an anti-elite backlash to climate action, as we've seen in France. Others will struggle to meet existing high-bar targets, as in Germany. In the United States, any Democrat running for president will be a “dark green” environmentalist seeking ambitious change—but even if a Democrat defeats Trump in November, progressive climate action will face high legal, regulatory, and political hurdles in 2021 and beyond.
That puts politics on a collision course with a growing percentage of investors, companies, and society at large, which will carry higher costs this year.
Corporate decision-making will face a squeeze. Over one-third of global capital has some type of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) mandate, and trillions of dollars in investment already exclude companies and countries that won't meet the 2-degree threshold. Faced with shareholder activism and pressure from their own employees, and looking to seize business opportunities that arise from becoming more sustainable, more than 600 global companies have committed to reducing their emissions consistent with 2 degrees. C-suites will feel they have to choose between aggressive ESG mandates and their bottom lines.
Social pressure will create more costly operational and investment-flow disruptions. Civil society will press investors and companies it believes are moving too slowly—particularly oil and gas firms, airlines, carmakers, and meat producers—a trend led by growing grass roots movements such as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future. Related supply chain disruption will become a meaningful risk. In turn, investors will reduce exposures to carbon intensive industries—including critical sectors such as steel and cement—impacting asset prices.