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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

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September 4 2014: Scientists, corporate leaders, military strategists, financial analysts, and sustainability and conservation experts have all hailed the IPCC briefing series on the implications of climate change for business as a vital resource for companies wanting to plan for the future. Read the press release.

"I applaud this initiative. Spelling out the implications of climate change for different sectors, on the basis of the work of the IPCC, will allow businesses to adapt to the challenges they face and understand the role they are able to play in reducing their climate impact."

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC

Their publication comes ahead of the UN Climate Change summit in New York, hosted by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, which many of the world’s business and political leaders will attend.

What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its Fifth Assessment Report?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a UN body that regularly convenes scientific experts to review and summarise the current state of understanding of climate change, to inform global policymaking.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in response to a growing call from governments around the world to better understand the scientific and policy challenges of climate change.

Every five to seven years the IPCC produces a comprehensive assessment of the Earth’s climate. Since its inception, the IPCC has produced five reports documenting the consequences of rising global temperature and interrelated trends, threats from further greenhouse gas emissions and ways to avoid or adapt to climate change impacts. The most recent report was released over 2013–2014 and is known as Assessment Report 5 or AR5.

AR5 will provide an opportunity for businesses and governments to revise their strategies to be in line with the latest scientific understanding of climate change risks. It is released in four parts:

  • Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis
  • Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
  • Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change
  • A Synthesis Report 

For more information on the IPCC and how it compiles the AR5 please read our first summary: the IPCC 5th Assessment Report Overview.

What are the IPCC Business Briefings?

These briefings condense the key findings of the IPCC’s AR5 report into clear, short and sector-specific summaries for relevant sectors.

There are thirteen reports in total. The first summary serves as an overview explaining the process of compiling AR5 and the relevance to business. The second summary is based on the IPCC Working Group 1 and covers the physical science basis of climate and its projected impacts. Following the initial summaries on the AR5 and the climate science, eleven sector-specific briefings have been created including: Agriculture, Buildings, Cities, Employment, Energy, Extractive and Primary Industries, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Investors and Finance, Military, Tourism and Transport.

The briefings have been produced by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), the Cambridge Judge Business School (JBS) and the European Climate Foundation (ECF), with the support of a number of partners, including: 

BPIE (Buildings), BSR (Agriculture, Transport and Primary and Extractive Industries), ETUI (Employment), ICLEI (Cities), IIGCCUNEP FI (Investors and Finance), Institute for Environmental Security (Defence), Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (Defence), Sustainable Fisheries (Fisheries) and the World Energy Council (Energy).

"The AR5 Buildings Report is crucial in understanding the numerous opportunities buildings offer to curb growing energy demand as well as the challenges associated with the lack of sustained policies. Energy efficient buildings will play a key role in laying the foundations of a low carbon future for the planet."

Roland Hunziker, Director, Sustainable Buildings of WBCSD

Why are these briefings useful for businesses?

These reports seek to kick-start a conversation around the risk climate change poses to business and the opportunities for business responses. AR5 presents a key moment to update business strategies in line with the latest information on how climate change will affect natural resources, operations, infrastructure and the global policy environment.

Among the most relevant parts of the IPCC AR5 for businesses are the assessments of impacts and potential risks from climate change for the economy. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, disappearing glaciers and acidifying seawater will have direct impacts on some business sectors. 

Also, alongside governments and citizens, business has a major role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. It is the private sector that will innovate and invest in the new technologies and systems that will form the foundation of this new economy. It is also the voice of business at the table, supporting and influencing the design of the policy responses and institutional architecture, which will help make this transition successful, even as the more negatively focused voice of business could undermine any action.

Policymakers are increasingly calling for support from business in this arena to help them build the necessary consensus for action, and to counteract voices pushing for ‘business as usual’.

"The scale and seriousness of climate change as an environmental, economic, social and financial problem is not only indisputable now; it is also unprecedented. This guide is an important aid for financial institutions – particularly those in developing countries – to understand the complexities and implications of climate change so that informed action can be taken."

Karin Ireton, Chair of UNEP Finance Initiative’s Climate Change Advisory Group, and Director, Group Sustainability Management, Standard Bank, Africa’s largest commercial bank

Why did you choose these specific sectors to write summaries for?

The thirteen summaries we created cover a range of business and social issues. We chose to summarise specific sectors of work, rather than geographical areas or regions, as we wanted to reflect the global supply chain and common challenges in many places.

We focused on sectors that are relevant to the complex global world we live in and bring in strong constituents and stakeholders, with an interest in knowing the impacts, risks and opportunities of climate change. Some sectors like health and insurance already have sources of information that effectively document the risks and opportunities associated with climate change.

Given that there are many ways one could condense AR5, we hope that our twelve summaries will have something of interest for most companies. Covering a broad range of topics from the military to energy, to the buildings and cities we live in, to the future availability of food and resources.

Why did the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, the Cambridge Judge Business School and the European Climate Foundation create these IPCC business briefings?

By providing accurate information about climate change in an accessible and appropriate format we aim to deepen understanding about the risks and rewards brought by a changing climate across society particularly to business. The AR5 is the most authoritative report on the science of climate change, as well as the impacts it has on the way we live. It also gives options on how to mitigate climate challenges. From the US and Europe to China and South America, from fishermen and farmers to bankers and soldiers, there are relevant messages in this report but it’s a tough read unless you're a scientist.

Because of this we undertook to ‘translate’ the report, to draw from it the relevant findings for a wide variety of audiences, but most specifically in the field of business.

"AR5 contains a wealth of relevant information which will be central to this planning in the years to come. The initiative of the World Energy Council, the University of Cambridge, and the European Climate Foundation will play a useful role in embedding an understanding of climate science and its significance for the energy sector."

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC

Which organisations have been involved with this project?

The sector-specific briefings have been undertaken by many partners and include:

Grateful thanks are also extended to all reviewers from the science and business communities as well as University of Cambridge academics for their time, effort and invaluable feedback on these documents.

"This briefing pulls together the disparate parts of the IPCC’s latest report relating to defence into a clear and easy to understand document. It provides vital information on how the defence sector will need to respond to this global challenge."

Major General (ret) Joseph G. Singh, Guyana

How can you ensure these are accurate when the original report is long and complicated?

Each summary has been peer reviewed by IPCC authors, experts from the science and business communities, as well as University of Cambridge academics, to ensure it remains faithful to the original content of the report. Obviously these are summaries and therefore selective, but efforts have been made to faithfully represent the evidence and conclusions in AR5.

"The aim of this report, and the series of which it is a part, is to help businesses make the most of the highly valuable information in the IPCC reports, by distilling them into accurate, accessible, timely, relevant and readable summaries."

Eliot Whittington, Deputy Director, Policy, CISL

Why are you creating ‘infographics’ as well as a written report?

We produced a series of infographics (visual depictions/data visualisation), which ensure that complex issues can also be pulled out visually, rather than through text. This serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it means that our audiences have the same information or complementary information in a quick to read and aesthetically pleasing format. Complex numbers, statistics and concepts can often be better digested visually than through text, but both the infographic and the written text will work together as a whole. In addition, infographics can be used for social media, presentations and online.

Will the summaries provide policy options?

IPCC reports themselves are policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive. It is the role of the IPCC to provide governments with a comprehensive assessment of the scientific, technical, and socio-economic knowledge on issues related to climate change. The climate change projections assessed are based on a range of specific scenarios. From this assessment, policymakers obtain information on potential consequences from climate change depending on the scenario.

"This Cities Summary succinctly summarises the key implications for urban areas. It is a must-read for all local decision-makers."

David Cadman, President, ICLEI

Are there any economic benefits to taking action on climate change?

A number of economic modelling efforts – most famously those carried out by Lord Nicholas Stern – suggest that the costs of acting on climate change are manageable and the costs of not acting are likely to be much higher and could be immensely disruptive. Clearly the costs of climate action depend on the specific mix of policies and measures used. 

Two key elements of a pro-business approach to climate change are a clear, long-term policy framework that encourages early action, and policies that work with the market to incentivise the private sector. For example, Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank reiterated two priorities for their own institutions: to remove the fossil fuel subsidies that incentivise the use of fossil fuels at dangerous levels, and to put a price on carbon. The leaders said this approach will lead to economic benefits, while insulating the global economy from risks caused by a planet that warms beyond two degrees. They note that climate change contributes to lowered revenues, increased debt and financial instability by damaging agricultural yields, natural resources and infrastructure. Decades of progress on poverty alleviation and economic growth can be wiped out in a single extreme weather event, which will become more frequent with climate change.

"To avoid what would be unacceptably dangerous climate change, patterns of investment will need to change considerably. This will include significant decreases in investment in fossil fuel extraction and conventional fossil fuel-based power generation, and significant increases in investment in low carbon energy and energy efficiency. If we are to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible and avoid sudden shocks to investor value, investors, governments and others must work together urgently, fully informed about what is at stake."

Andrew Voysey, Director, Finance Sector, CISL

What can companies do to show their commitment to addressing climate change?

The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group has placed the IPCC AR5 squarely in the centre of their Trillion Tonne Communiqué, an international leadership statement from business in support of an ambitious, robust and equitable global climate deal. 

The AR5 sets out the link between the cumulative total of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resultant global climate change. It warns that if atmospheric emissions exceed more than a trillion tonnes of carbon from CO2 then the global average temperature increase is likely to exceed 2°C. 

The risks of this level of climate change are too significant to ignore and The Communiqué draws out the implications of this by identifying three clear goals that a policy framework that keeps cumulative emissions below a trillion tonnes will need to deliver on. These goals have been chosen because of their ability to clarify the scale and nature of the transformation required. 

The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) is encouraging other businesses, both large and small, to join this business movement. The Communiqué messages are aimed at national governments engaging in climate policy development, both nationally and via the international UN process to create a global framework to address the risks posed by climate change. 

The CLG is a group of UK, EU and international progressive businesses who believe that there is an urgent need to develop new and longer term policies for tackling climate change.

Where can I find more information?

The IPCC’s website has summaries for policymakers, and technical summaries, both of which are more detailed then our briefings, yet not the full scientific report – making them still widely accessible. 

CISL’s portfolio of executive education programmes provides individuals and organisations with a broad range of sustainability leadership and strategy courses which are designed to meet specific business and leadership development needs. 


The family of summaries is not meant to represent the entirety of the IPCC’s AR5 and they are not official IPCC documents. The summaries have been peer-reviewed by experts from both business and science communities. The English version constitutes the official version.