Are businesses prepared for climate impacts?

Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resilience

As we saw once again in 2014—the warmest year globally on record—increases in extreme weather and other climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on society. Even as governments, companies and communities strengthen efforts to reduce emissions contributing to climate change, …

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Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on communities and companies alike. While some businesses are taking steps to assess and address climate risks, many face internal and external challenges to building climate resilience.

In a new report, Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resiliencereleased at Climate Week NYC, C2ES examined how major global companies are preparing for climate risks, and what is keeping them from doing more.

C2ES reviewed public disclosures of S&P Global 100 companies, conducted in-depth interviews, and held workshops with business leaders, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Key findings include:

Major companies recognize and report climate risks.

We found 91 of the world’s largest 100 companies see extreme weather and other climate impacts as business risks. Business leaders see climate risks firsthand – in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.

Most (84 companies) discussed climate risk concerns in CDP questionnaires. Fewer companies did so in their sustainability reports (47) or financial filings (40).

More companies are assessing their vulnerabilities.

The vast majority of companies rely on existing risk management or business continuity planning to address climate risks.

Many see climate change as a “threat magnifier” that exacerbates risks they already know and understand. This lens puts climate change into a familiar business context, but companies could overlook or underestimate the threats they face.

There is no one “right” approach to manage climate risks.

After talking to dozens of major companies, we saw approaches falling into two main categories.

Some companies broadly examine climate risks across their entire enterprise. Diageo, a global beverage company, conducts an annual companywide evaluation of potential climate risks in over 30 countries where they have production and distribution facilities.

Others take a more narrowly focused approach, looking at specific facilities, regions, or threats, like impacts on water supply. Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining operations, focused on its high-risk facilities in Brazil and South Africa.

For companies looking to examine climate risks, it may help to start small with a limited-scope vulnerability assessment. This can build internal awareness of the issues and support a broader assessment.

Although some companies are taking action, they also face obstacles.

A wealth of climate data is available, but companies struggle to connect the dots between global or national data and business decisions focused on a narrower geographic area. There’s also a disconnect between longer-term climate impacts and the shorter-term horizon of investment decisions.

Business leaders told us they need “actionable science” to translate data into risk scenarios.

Companies and communities can work together to build resilience.

A lot of risks are outside a company’s control, like climate impacts on infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water and electricity systems.

Cities play a key role in designing and maintaining critical infrastructure. Many cities have started examining their climate risks and developing adaptation plans, sometimes in partnership with universities and nonprofits.

It’s less common for cities and companies to partner on resilience. That’s a missed opportunity.

Cities often have user-friendly, locally specific data and models that could give companies a head start in considering their own risks. For example, New York City has a Panel on Climate Change to develop city-level information about climate variables to use in planning.

Companies often can provide investment for resilience strategies that go beyond risk reduction to also enhance community facilities and improve air or water quality. In Philadelphia, private developers are partnering with city government, schools and neighborhood groups to fund green infrastructure to better handle storm water runoff.

More of these kinds of partnerships – to analyze data, evaluate climate risks, do cost-benefit studies, and implement resilience planning – will strengthen both companies and communities.