The Big Heat

The Copenhagen Accord recognises that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. Jane Wardle considers how businesses should best prepare themselves for dealing with extreme weather disruption

Climate change is a very real and urgent global issue. We read about it in newspapers, hear it debated in Parliament and our children learn about it in school.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen in December introduced the Copenhagen Accord. This recognises that ¡°climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time.¡± It agrees we need to mitigate against climate change, with ¡°deep cuts in global emissions¡± required to keep global temperature increase below 2¡ãC. It also calls for urgent action to adapt to the climate change we are already committed to.

Year on year, the evidence is growing that damaging climate and weather events ¨C potentially intensified by global warming ¨C are already happening and beginning to
affect society. Recently, we have seen:
  • heavy rainfall leading to damaging floods, such as recently seen in Cumbria and widespread across the UK in the summer of 2007
  • heatwaves, such as in August 2003 across the UK and Europe. There were an estimated 2,091 (17%) more deaths in England than the average for the same period over the previous five years. In France, this number rises to an estimated 15,000 people
  • around the world, an increasing incidence of extreme weather events with unprecedented levels of damage to society and infrastructure. Last year's unusually destructive typhoon season in South-east Asia, while not easy to attribute directly to climate change, illustrates vulnerabilities to such events
  • sea-level rises leading to dangerous exposure of populations in, for example, Bangladesh, the Maldives and other island states
  • persistent droughts, leading to pressures on water and food resources, and increasing incidence of forest fires in regions where future projections indicate longterm reductions in rainfall, such as South West Australia and the Mediterranean
These emerging signals are consistent with what we expect from our climate projections, giving us confidence in the science and models that underpin them.

With climate change continuing, we can expect much larger changes in the coming decades than have been seen so far.

Mitigation and adaptation
To plan effectively for the future, decisionmakers need to understand how our climate will change and how this may impact their organisation.

Climate change will have major consequences for food production, water availability, ecosystems and human health. This will create migration pressures and potentially cause regional instability. In the UK, we will be affected directly and indirectly through the effects of climate change on global markets (notably in food), health, extent of flooding, and sea levels.

In some sectors there may be a fairly obvious fundamental link with climate change, such as wildlife and forest management.

Others may be less clear but just as impacted, such as financial, engineering
and transport sectors. However, many businesses, irrespective of their sector, will
have strategic decisions and contingency planning that will need to be reviewed if an organisation is to safeguard its future success in a changing climate.

One way of considering your vulnerability and risk to climate change, and
therefore the potential impacts, is to look at how your organisation coped in past severe weather events. For example, looking at how the heatwave in 2003 impacted your organisation; how would you cope if these temperatures were the average in 30 years¡¯ time?

Were your staff, suppliers and customers able to get to where they wanted?
Did your equipment stand up to the higher temperatures? Were your suppliers
affected? Was there a cost, such as for overtime or maintenance? By understanding how organisations have coped in the past, we can generate realistic future weather scenarios to help organisations future-proof themselves.

Working in the Met Office is an ideal place to see how different organisations are dealing with the opportunities and challenges that climate change presents. Some
organisations are just starting down the road, whereas others have been fully engaged in the process for several years, and a number of different approaches have been taken.

Some organisations are working with us to inform their staff about climate change,
and there are a number of drivers for this.

Some are using seminars to empower staff to make informed decisions and understand the next steps to take on what can seem like a daunting challenge.

Some see training as an aid to gaining support from staff for the introduction of climate-related policies. Yet others see it as part of providing professional development and attracting top recruits. Sometimes top-level staff want a concise briefing so they can talk with confidence about the latest developments in climate change and its impacts.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have consortiums that have clubbed together to fund climate research in their area. A group of energy companies funded research on the impacts of climate change on factors such as energy generation, distribution, transmission, and demand. This has allowed experts from the industry, supported by climate scientists, to develop practical applications and business strategies for the future.

Another group that has been working with us to address the impacts of climate change is the CBI Task Force ¨C a group of leading UK companies including Tesco,
BP, Barclays and British Airways.

Together, we have been identifying how businesses will need to adapt to our changing climate, both to reduce their impact and thrive. A large number of businesses in the insurance market have come together to work with us to research how climate change could affect insurance claims.

In the UK, we are at the forefront of tackling dangerous climate change, underpinned by world-class scientific expertise and advice. A huge range of businesses are utilising this expertise to address the challenges ahead ¨C from global banks protecting their investments, to transport organisations wanting to know if the roads will melt, to government departments considering impacts on services, workforce and other related issues.

Jane Wardle is climate change change business development manager at the Met Office Hadley Centre

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