The Impact of Intense Climate Disruption on Communities, Economies, and Lives

Will Jackson-Moor and Emma Cox

We depend on nine essential commodities: critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper; food crops such as wheat, maize, and rice; and vital metals like iron, copper, and bauxite (which is used to make aluminium).

These minerals and metals are critical to transportation, construction, manufacturing, electronics, and the green transition. The key crops supply 42% of human calories. And production of all of these commodities could be disrupted by climate change unless we take action to adapt to a hotter world.

Large proportions of global supplies of nine of our essential commodities are produced at sites that are increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

Even in an optimistic scenario in which carbon emissions rapidly decrease, many of the mines and farms that provide our essential commodities will face increasingly hot and dry conditions in the coming years – conditions which can potentially disrupt production.

In farming – the world’s thirstiest industry, which consumes 70% of the world’s freshwater – drought can reduce crop yields. Water is particularly critical in the cultivation of rice, wheat, and maize. In mining, a lack of water undermines water-intensive operations including ore extraction, mineral processing, and dust control.

Heat stress can reduce productivity – and even be life-threatening – for workers at mines and farms who often spend many hours working outdoors, where they are directly exposed to the impacts of heat and humidity.

Below are the percentages of production capacity for each commodity that may be disrupted by growing heat stress and drought – even if global carbon emissions sharply decline.

Risks to essential commodities:

Iron                                      62% of Iron production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Bauxite                               62% of Bauxite production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Zinc                                      26% of Zinc production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Lithium                                74% of Lithium production at risk from drought by 2050

Cobalt                                 74% of Cobalt production at risk from drought by 2050

Copper                                54% of Copper production at risk from drought by 2050

Maize                                  27% of Maize production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Wheat                                 36% of Wheat production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Rice                                     87% of Rice production at risk from heat stress by 2050

Implications for business

1. Risks are rising for all nine commodities.

In some cases, risks are rising sharply from low levels, underlining the need to ensure resource producers are prepared to manage increasing risks that, in some cases, they may have little experience in managing.

2. We can’t assume that future emissions reductions will protect us from a changing climate

Even in an optimistic scenario in which global carbon emissions drop rapidly, heat stress and drought risks will increase significantly, highlighting the importance of adapting to a changing climate while we strive to reduce carbon emissions

3. Resource producers and consumers should begin preparing for growing disruption risk

Already, 47% of CEOs have taken proactive measures to safeguard their workforces and physical assets from climate change, according to PwC’s 2024 Annual Global CEO Survey. However, more needs to be done to enhance resilience.

Leaders’ perspectives

Will Jackson-Moor‘Many locations that produce essential commodities are likely to experience more frequent spells of intense drought and heat stress by 2050, even in an optimistic low emissions scenario.’

‘To avoid economic losses and protect communities and ecosystems; producers, and the broader business community, should understand the impact of climate disruption on production and engage in multi-stakeholder efforts to adapt. This will also strengthen efforts to more rapidly transition to a net zero economy.’

Emma Cox – ‘Even if global carbon emissions rapidly decrease, climate disruption poses a serious and growing threat to the world’s ability to produce essential commodities – including food as well as materials that are themselves essential to the net zero transition.

‘While CEOs are taking action to both cut emissions and adapt to climate change, more needs to be done. Businesses need to understand their dependencies and impacts, then work with governments and communities to transform their consumption and production patterns. This is crucial not only for the ongoing success of individual businesses, but also for the overall health and prosperity of the global population.’

Will Jackson-Moor is Global Sustainability Leader, PwC UK

Emma Cox is Global Climate Leader, PwC UK

This article was republished under the Creative Commons licence.

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