Climate resilience: it’s time for businesses to act now

From the Covid-19 outbreak, the non-stop UK floods, and the disastrous Australian bushfires, 2020 has been wrought with new challenges. Sarah Winne, associate, and Julia Thompson, consultant, Ramboll 2020 writes why now more than ever we must deal with future proactively, starting with building resilience to the changing climate.

For UK businesses dealing with the uncertainty and financial challenges of Covid-19, surviving in the short term naturally surpasses attempting to build resilience to climate change in the long term. Despite this, it is paramount that the UK does not lose the momentum that had been building to tackle the climate emergency and continues to work to adapt to the changing climate alongside the multitude of new challenges 2020 is introducing.

Defining climate resilience

In general terms, climate resilience is the capacity to anticipate and respond to climate-related disturbances. This is especially important for UK businesses, as these disturbances cause a whole wealth of new challenges alongside existing issues.

From looking at the data over just the last year, the UK experienced a variety of extreme weather trends; experiencing the hottest day on record in July 2019 and the wettest in February 2020. With climate projections suggesting that such events will only increase and intensify in the future, it is now crucial that the effects of climate change in the UK are recognised and dealt with.

The negative effects of such extremes in weather on businesses are plain to see. Their facilities and operations, employees, customers, supply and distribution chains, and electricity and water supplies are all likely to be affected. Businesses that prepare in advance for these changes, and can manage their impacts, will experience less interruption to operations when future events arise.

Importantly, understanding the risks that climate change poses is vital to building climate resilience. Those businesses that understand the risks, and how they may develop, can take proactive steps to lessen those risks more easily; incorporating climate risk management into their existing risk management processes.

Prioritising resilience issues

Risks associated with flooding are the most obvious physical climate risks for UK businesses and communities. It is therefore essential that UK homes and businesses are protected from current and future flood risks, if we are to effectively build resilience to climate change. As the more recent succession of calamitous storms have shown, many parts of the UK simply cannot deal with heavy rainfall events and the resulting flood levels.

However, at the other end of the climate scale, we witness an issue which receives considerably less funding and attention than flooding: extreme summer temperatures.

The risks associated with higher temperatures can seriously affect health and productivity of workers, as well as put more vulnerable members of the population at risk. Increased cooling costs for air-conditioned offices can also be a result of higher temperatures.

UK businesses are also struggling to understand and manage climate risks to supply and distribution chains. For example, the drought of 2018 made evident that extreme weather events significantly affect the supply of raw materials, agriculture, natural resources and transportation networks, as severe low water levels in the River Rhine disrupted shipping and affected supplies of industrial commodities throughout Europe.

Putting resilience into practice

As the ways in which businesses are at risk of the impacts of climate change are incredibly complex, the best examples of resilience-building are those which address the risks systematically, whilst also considering other sustainability ambitions. At present, net-zero targets are receiving enhanced attention which, although should be prioritized, must be considered alongside analysing and mitigating the risk that climate change poses.

We have taken this approach at Ramboll, working with our clients to understand the risks, identify adaptation options, and ensure that these are considered together with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One client that illustrated such an approach was from the food and drink sector.

They had found that, due to their reliance on air conditioning to maintain specific humidity and temperature levels in their manufacturing environment, increased average temperatures posed a risk to the product quality, increased cooling costs, and made energy efficiency objectives impossible.

However, the client was able to develop a facility using innovative construction materials and energy efficiency measures, which both reduced heating and cooling costs, whilst also remaining resilient to the changing climate. This was achieved by taking a systematic approach to aligning mitigation and adaptation activities.

Additionally, Ramboll is presently working with an industrial client to set ambitious emissions reductions targets, alongside assisting them to analyse the physical risks of climate change. This may be challenging for a global company with a complex supply and distribution chain, but by taking a systematic approach, opportunities are identified in advance and no risks are missed.

To improve climate resilience, it is also important to consider climate risk within business planning. This is especially apt for high-risk climate disturbances such as flooding; to significantly reduce the risk of flooding and maintain the operational status of each site during a flood event, Ramboll has worked with clients to identify a variety of site-specific flood resistance measures which consider tidal, fluvial, surface water and groundwater sources of risk. Importantly, working alongside clients and authorities to provide indicative budgets for the climate resilience measures can demonstrate the cost-benefit of such steps, too.

Moving forward

As we face incredibly uncertain times regarding the UK’s future and climate, what is most important for businesses building climate resilience is thinking systematically about their sustainability objectives and climate risks. Currently, setting net-zero emission targets is high on the agenda, but doing so at the expense of understanding how the objectives will be achieved or considering the impacts of climate change could de-value sustainability objectives and weaken businesses in the face of future climate impacts.

Understanding the risks that climate change poses in their entirety alongside the potential effects for UK businesses is necessary to truly build resilience to climate change.

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Sarah Winne

Sarah Winne

Associate, Ramboll.

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