Climate calls in 2016: 9 predictions for the new year

El Nino ‘on steroids’ will cause drought, flooding; clean energy investments will soar; polluters will face court; Arsenal will win the Premier League

The Gemasolar plant in Spain, one of a growing network of solar thermal power plants around the world (Pic: Torresol Energy Investments)

The Gemasolar plant in Spain, one of a growing network of solar thermal power plants around the world (Pic: Torresol Energy Investments)

By Ed King

Only fools make predictions, so here’s my take on the next 12 months.

Add your own below in the ‘comments’ box, tweet us or post a suggestion on Facebook, and we’ll use the best in a new post at the start of 2016.

1 – Temperatures will continue to inch higher, due in part to a strong El Nino phenomenon releasing heat into the atmosphere. Scientists at the UK Met Office predict 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

(Pic: NOAA)

(Pic: NOAA)

2 – It’s not just the mercury that will be affected. An El Nino boosted by global warming could exacerbate drought in Australia and Indonesia, make rains more erratic in East Africa and cause flooding in Latin America. Oxfam says it could tip vulnerable communities in these regions over the edge.

3 – Think the Paris agreement means an end to geopolitical climate warfare? Think again. The deal is diplomatically significant, and gives the UN new credibility, but old divisions remain. Expect a huge battle in Bonn this summer over how transparency rules will be applied to rich, poor and emerging economies.

The success in Paris may yet be brief. With US presidential elections looming at the end of 2016, debate on how committed Washington could be to a climate pact under Republicans Donald Trump, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush will rage. Still, Paddypower have Democrat Hillary Clinton – who rates herself as something of a climate champion – as the odds-on favourite at 8/11, and what fool argues with an Irish bookmaker?

To court!

4 – Lawyers are in for a windfall. 2016 could be the year when top carbon polluters and governments that ignore climate laws get dragged into the dock. James Thornton, head of the ClientEarth NGO – a group of environmental lawyers – says attaching liability for climate change to major carbon emitters is close to reality.

“If you could show a company like BP is responsible for 3.2% of total anthropogenic climate change, should the court simply fine it for 3.2% of the damages for a heatwave or storm? And would it then be liable for 3.2% of all future climate change damages?” he says. BP can rest easy for now – it looks like Exxon is top of the list for campaigners.

Boom time

5 – Exciting times for green business lie on the horizon. Clean energy finance is increasing according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a think tank, with “over half of all new annual investment in emerging markets”. A November analysis of 55 countries including China, India, Brazil showed renewables investments were up 39% in 2014 from 2013, at $126 billion.

During the 19th century investors targeted returns in isolation, and in the 20th century the finance industry sought to balance risk and returns. The events of the first decade of the 21st century have shown this approach to be overly short-term with adverse impacts. What is required today is for investor focus to integrate risk, returns and impact – George Latham, WHEB investors

This will be the year we see the first rain forest protection bond deployed, a ramp up for off-grid solar finance – huge for Africa and Asia. The number of environmental and socially aware investors will rise sharply, a figure that will be reflected in the green tinge of assets under management throughout the year. We may (a big may) also see the UN’s flagship Green Climate Fund get its act together, with a mooted scale up of deployed funds.

Coal crash?

6 – On the flip side, expect high carbon divestments to continue – especially around coal – and some bankruptcies in US high yield energy corporations. Still, while coal burning may be plateauing in China (the government has banned any new coal mines for three years), India is likely to compensate as it ramps up its coal plans. The Delhi government left no-one under any illusion in Paris it sees coal as the gateway to development.

7 – Slumping oil prices will test the mettle of leading producers, from BP and Shell to Saudi Arabia, which is struggling to cope with a fast-expanding budget deficit as a result of its decision to keep the pumps open and prices low.

Riyadh made the bold call of slashing domestic oil subsidies at the end of December, leading to prices rising by 50% in some cases. How will these radical changes – applauded by international energy analysts – impact Saudi society?

UK leadership?

8 – In the UK, where Climate Home is based, secretary of state for energy and climate change Amber Rudd may emerge as an unlikely green champion, emboldened by her key role in delivering a Paris deal. Criticised heavily in 2015 for slashing green policies, she appears to be working on a new plan to rebuild confidence in the domestic green sector. Don’t expect a radical policy shift, rather a softening of rhetoric and gradual boost of help for clean energy providers.

Amber Rudd - climate champion? (Pic: UK in India/Flickr)

Amber Rudd – climate champion? (Pic: UK in India/Flickr)

Later in the year, British voters are likely to be offered the chance to stay or leave Europe in a one-off referendum. After much panic, threats, dire warnings and tedious shock advertising campaigns prime minister a majority are likely to stick with Brussels, perhaps happy with their known unknowns, rather than the unknown unknowns of life alone on the open seas.

(Green) football scores

9 – Ok. Not so much about the climate, but still geopolitically important. Arsenal to win the Premier League, after blowing an 8-point lead and offering Man City hope; England to reach the semi-finals of the Euros; Barca, Bayern, Inter and PSG will also keep their table-topping positions come the end of season.

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