Greater China Director of The Climate Group
In the last 100,000 years or so, our planet has endured an Ice Age and a few mini-ice ages. But now, with the earth on track to be four degrees Celsius warmer by 2100, a "Heat Age" is looming over us all.
This is not fear-mongering. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2100 we can expect a mean increase in surface temperature of 3.7ºC, with a likely range of 2.6-4.8 degrees. A warmer world will lead to mass migration from stricken areas and exacerbate existing wealth gaps between countries. In the words of David Victor, of the University of California, San Diego, the coming Heat Age will be "nasty, brutish, and hot."
Greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to reach a record high of 36 billion tons this year. That figure is expected to grow dramatically, as the great emerging-market boom of recent decades, which has lifted billions out of poverty and raised living standards around the world, puts increasing strain on the world's environment and resources. Indeed, by 2030, three billion new middle-class consumers - most of them in Asia - will add to the ever-growing burden of emissions.
We can already get a sense of the far-reaching consequences of climate change. In 2010, a major drought in eastern China damaged the wheat crop, forcing the country to rely on imports. This, combined with major wildfires in Russia's wheat-producing areas, helped to double average food prices in global markets.
In the Arab world, many people must spend around half of their income on food, compared with just 5-10% in Europe or the United States. Not surprisingly, the spike in food prices was a contributing factor in the civil unrest that sparked the Arab Spring.
As the link between global food prices and political instability demonstrates, we live in a globally interconnected world, in which we are failing to produce in the right way or create the right economic incentives to address profound environmental threats. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has put it, climate change is a big problem with small solutions.