Climate Change: a risk to the global middle class

Introduction to: "Climate Change: a risk to the global middle class"

A report presented by UBS

Key climate change milestones occurred in 2015
  • The hottest temperatures ever were recorded, surpassing 2014 record-setting temperatures. Since pre-industrial times the planet has warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The strongest El Niño, marked by record-setting temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that were 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.
  • Global average atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in May. Perhaps one of the most critical milestones, this level of carbon dioxide is 120 ppm above pre-industrial levels.

Chapter 1

Another exceptional year

In the first six months of 2015 natural catastrophes caused 16,200 fatalities and total economic losses of USD 32 billion (2014 values), of which USD 12 billion were insured. The five costliest events were winter storms in the United States, Canada and Europe.

While the consequences of global climate change are far-reaching and significant for everyone, few analyses have focused specifically on the world's middle class, an estimated 1 billion people. We believe this is a population worthy of study, because the fate of the global middle class is fundamental to social stability and economic growth.

To examine the impact of climate change on the middle class, UBS looked at middle-class consumption in 215 cities around the world and compared consumption patterns to the level of climate-change risk in those cities. Read our report and find out how the middle class will be affected and what we can do about it. 

Chapter 2

Middle-class exposure:
Locating and characterizing the global middle class

The world's largest global cities contain nearly a quarter of the global population and generate around half of global GDP. The concentration of both people and wealth in urban centers means cities are crucial not just to national economies, but also to global companies and their investors.

In 2000, nearly half of the global population of 6 billion people lived in cities; the United Nations expects this figure to rise to 60 percent by 2025. Such climate-driven population shifts have the potential to create and exacerbate conflict. 

Chapter 3

How is the middle class affected and can they adapt?

Research has shown that as temperatures rise beyond 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), humans can struggle to adapt to their surroundings, and mortality rates rise.

As of 2015, nearly 25 percent of the cities analyzed already have median annual temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). A study of 15 European cities over a 10-year period estimated that even a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) increase above the respective average summer temperature threshold resulted in a two to three percent increase in mortality.

Chapter 4

Strategies for dealing with climate change risks:
Behavioral issues and affordability challenges

91% of weather related losses in Asia are uninsured.
In less developed and newly industrialized nations, the middle class is typically underinsured, with emerging markets showing very low insurance penetration relative to property value (e.g. 0.12% for China and 0.07% for India). 


Download the report (PDF, 3 MB)

Welcome to the UBS report: Climate change, a risk to the global middle class, which reveals new findings on the economic impact of climate change on the middle class, and beyond.

Download press release here

EN (PDF, 229 KB)
DE (PDF, 219 KB)
Chinese (PDF, 302 KB)
Traditional Chinese (PDF, 475 KB)

Download the UBS climate change commitment here (PDF, 1 MB)

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