Disaster Planning

Vanguard Adaptation Leader: U.S. Department of Defense

The community of adaptation leaders should, indeed must, bolster its essential link with the national security apparatus.  Three reports suggest why:

1.     The Department of Defense has created a Roadmap (2014) with an objective to collaborate with stakeholders, including the adaptation community. Specifically, it says it seeks to promote deliberate collaboration with stakeholders across the Department and with other Federal, State, local, tribal and international agencies and oorganizations in addressing climate change considerations.

The report maintains that climate change “is a long-term trend, but with wise planning and risk mitigation now, we can reduce adverse impacts downrange.”  The authors’ use of the term “downrange” is important. While it’s not necessarily the future, it’s a target that may be farther away and, therefore, requires careful preparation to nail. 

The report concludes: “By taking a proactive, flexible approach to assessment, analysis, and adaptation, the Defense Department will keep pace with a changing climate, minimize its impacts on our missions, and continue to protect our national security.”

2.     In 2015, the DOD released another report on the national implications of climate change that notes the need to adapt military facilities – many located along the coasts and/or in arid environments – and to develop adaptation strategies to diffuse risks in developing countries.

3.     The White House in September released a Statement and a National Security document about integrating climate change into national security. But, in a missed opportunity, the documents do not mention adaptation.

As panel submission deadlines loom for the biannual National Adaptation Forum, I hope its steering committee has invited the DOD to speak at the May 2017 forum.  The Defense Department is at the frontline in its adaptation leadership. We should try to leapfrog one another, helping to inform adaptation strategies for communities of stakeholders and to enhance research to action.




Hi, Leaders! It’s Adaptation Time!

I treated myself to two days of conferencing last week in my own city at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities, which focused on climate and other global challenges. Co-hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Financial Times, the event featured luminaries from 30 countries.  

The FT’s beautiful salmon-colored newsprint caught my eye both days, first with its special city supplement proclaiming in its cover article: “This would mean that, by the second half of the present century, some big cities could be as much as 10C hotter than their surrounding hinterlands….Many large cities are situated in low-lying coastal areas, leaving them badly exposed to the dangers of flooding that come with rising sea levels and storm surges.” And next with its front page showing an alarming image of central Paris under water. 

Despite the respected business publication’s stark climate prognosis, none of the panelists addressed climate adaptation and none responded to a question posed to the closing full plenary: “Climate Change and Global Cities,” https://www.chicagoforum.org/agenda/closing-lunch-climate-change-and-global-cities: “What role do cities play in increasing adaptive capacity to withstand climate change stresses and shocks?” However, when pressed by the FT moderator, the EU’s former commissioner for climate action only noted, “In Dakha Bangladesh, all they care about is adaptation, not mitigation.”

Tubingen, Germany, Mayor Boris Palmer, an erudite crowd-pleaser, proclaimed:  “It cannot be about adaptation, it must be about mitigation.”  He wisely noted that his success reflects never tiring of explaining the virtue of climate action at a level his audience understands. 

So here goes, an explanation geared to the panelists on the Global Threats to the Global City, https://www.chicagoforum.org/agenda/plenary-global-threats-global-city  (which did not mention climate change once in 75 minutes).

Abu Dhabi: https://www.ead.ae/Documents/RESEARCHERS/Climate%20change%20impacts%20-%20Eng.pdf Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi

The potential exposure of the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi, in particular, to the impact of sea level rises is quite significant, given its current socioeconomic conditions in coastal areas.  In addition to the effects of such rises on social and economic structures, the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems is also of particular concern.

Chicago https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/state-reports/climate/Illinois%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

In the 2011 winter, Chicago incurred over $1.8 billion in losses and 36 deaths when a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the city. In 2012, Illinois had the second-highest mortality (32 deaths) due to heat nationwide.  

London: http://climatelondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/CCRA-London.pdf

Twenty-nine percent of bus stations and 26 percent of underground stations are at risk of flooding, along with 14 percent of schools and 27 percent of police stations. The number of days per year when overheating could occur is projected to rise from 18 to between 22-51 days by the 2020s (central estimate is 33 days).

Singapore: https://www.nccs.gov.sg/climate-change-and-singapore/national-circumstances/impact-climate-change-singapore

From 1972 to 2014, the annual mean temperature increased from 26.6°C to 27.7°C. The mean sea level in the Straits of Singapore also has increased at the rate of 1.2mm-to-1.7mm per year in the period 1975 to 2009. 

Rainfall has intensified in recent years. Singapore's Second National Climate Change Study found a general uptrend in annual average rainfall from 2192mm in 1980 to 2727mm in 2014.

Washington, DC https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/state-reports/climate/district_of_columbia_fact_sheet.pdf

In 2012, damages from Hurricane Sandy required over $3 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover in the District of Columbia. The previous year, D.C. suffered damages from Hurricane Irene that required over $2.4 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover.

From Abu Dabhi to Washington, cities have shown a sincere desire to address climate change by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s more important than ever, and it must be accompanied by a sincere desire to learn about and employ climate adaptation. Why? Because every $1 invested in adaptation avoids $4 in future losses.

Tubingen Mayor Palmer, as a member of the Germany Green Party (which puts climate change at the center of all policy considerations, including environmental policy and safety and social aspects), has the splendid chance to again demonstrate leadership by turning his refusal to embrace climate adaptation into an opportunity to embrace it and all collateral benefits for his constituents.  

Earth Hour Sheds Light on 5 Grim Climate Facts

This post originally appeared on http://www.crs.org/stories/earth-hour-sheds-light-5-grim-climate-facts Climate change affects lives each day around the globe. From summer heat waves to drastic floods, it touches the wealthiest individuals living in modern cities and the poorest in developing countries. The effects of climate change can reach far beyond the expected ecosystems, economic sectors and populations.

CRS and our partner in El Salvador are helping farmers like Candido Hernandez Orellana build back harvests ruined by drought. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS

CRS and our partner in El Salvador are helping farmers like Candido Hernandez Orellana build back harvests ruined by drought. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS

On March 19, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time, cities, landmarks and businesses around the world will turn off their lights for one hour. The goal of this Earth Hour is to highlight climate change dangers.

Climate change is happening now, and predictions for the future are grim.

Below are five of the most shocking climate statistics that you may have been in the dark about:

  1. Events influenced by climate change took 12,994 lives in 2015.

This startlingly high number, provided by the International Disaster Database at the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, is up from 8,056 in 2014, showing just how dangerous climate change is becoming. There is a pressing need to adapt to climate change in order to protect lives threatened by droughts, fires, heat waves, storms, floods and landslides.

  1. The total monetary cost of events influenced by climate change in 2015 was $74.6 billion.

This data from the International Disaster Database highlights the huge economic impact. Besides the social, physical, and environmental needs, among many others, to mitigate and adapt to minimize future damage, there is an increasing economic need as well.

  1. 90% of the recorded natural disasters from 1995 to 2015 were influenced by climate and weather.

According to the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United States had the highest number of disasters, followed by China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Resilience and disaster planning are needed to reduce risks and mitigate impacts of floods, heat waves, droughts and other potentially catastrophic climate-related events.

  1. With no action, climate change costs and risks will accumulate to an equivalent of an annual loss of at least 5% of global GDP.

A report by Jonathan M. Harris, Brian Roach and Anne-Marie Codur at Tufts University, “The Economics of Global Climate Change,” predicts losses of land area, species and forests; and water supply disruption, increased human health dangers and drought. These changes—affecting biodiversity, agricultural production and human survival—will likely be irreversible. Other, less predictable, effects may include changing weather patterns, rapid melting of major ice sheets and glaciers, and an increasing rate of global warming.

  1. The total annual cost of climate change on human health will total about $2 to $4 billion by 2030.

This estimate from the World Health Organization accounts for the detrimental effects of climate change on vital basic resources, such as clean air, safe water, adequate nutrition and protective shelter. WHO also estimates 250,000 more deaths will occur annually between 2030 and 2050 because of climate change.

These numbers underscore the great sense of urgency to act against climate change to protect innocent lives.

Author: Joyce Coffee is managing director of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. 

Patricia Holly, a University of Notre Dame student, contributed to this article.

UNISDR Launches RISE Initiative for Disaster Risk-Sensitive INVESTMENT

“Economic losses from disasters are out of control and can only be reduced in partnership with the private sector.” ̶ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon


The United Nation’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, or UNISDR, and PwC, the global professional services network, launched their ambitious R!SE Initiative in the United States early this month in Boston, seeking to embed disaster risk management into investment decisions.

R!SE reflects a new way of collaborating on a global scale to unlock the potential for public and private sector entities to take leadership on disaster risk reduction. The one-day event on March 2 focused on whether cities should be transparent and share their resilience gaps. That’s also the key question for ND-GAIN as we embark on our Urban Adaptation Assessment with the Kresge Foundation.


The R!SE agenda at its launch encompassed a wide band of issues to define and discuss what R!SE seeks to do and why it matters:

  • A session defined the initiative, its different activity streams and projects already underway.
  • One explained why preparedness is important to the U.S. government and how the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new strategy supports this approach. (In short, the FEMA strategy involves an expeditionary organization that is survivor-centric and enables disaster risk reduction nationally.)
  • Another highlighted public-private partnerships that already promote resilience across the country. It examined the long-term governance structure needed to increase resilience across cities, states and the nation and the correct balance necessary to engage with the public and private sectors.
  • Afternoon breakout sessions explored two-to-three specific questions centering on how to leverage R!SE across the nation to enhance disaster-sensitive investments and to enhance society’s resilience.

Here are five key takeaways:

  1. Transparency is critical, but it’s not always easy from a political perspective to communicate gaps in resilience.
  2. Increasing trust throughout the communication process – by measuring such issues as economic impact that matter to citizens – proves necessary to demonstrate to citizens and communities that resilience investment will benefit them and help cities win battles over other priorities.
  3. A shift has occurred over the past few years toward increasing transparency, perhaps reflecting the rise in the number of activities to actually help increase resilience, not just assess it. The aim: Base every decision on an understanding of resilience.
  4. Since “city leader” isn’t synonymous with government, arming corporate and nonprofit leaders with information to help them develop capacity to increase resilience allows governments to be more transparent about gaps that exist with their constituents.
  5. A key asset of the R!SE Initiative is the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities, created by AECOM, the professional and technical services firm for infrastructure, and IBM for UNISDR. San Francisco has used the scorecard to inform capital asset decisions, which suggests that in the name of transparency, scorecard results should be made available to the public.


Oh, and given the similarities with R!SE, please watch this space as ND-GAIN transitions to a focus on urban adaptation issues in 2015.

Urban Adaptation Questions To Explore, with thanks to Joann Carmin

Attending the Carmin Symposium on Urban Climate Adaptation last month, I had the pleasure of being reminded over and over again why experts the world over looked to Dr. Carmin for insights and guidance to galvanize urban adaptation. Carmin

Here are five questions her closest collaborators elucidated for us, some of which ND-GAIN will be exploring via our Kresge Foundation-funded urban adaptation assessment project.  Which of these questions are you finding answers to? :

What internal and external factor shape the ways in which poor and marginalized urban residents can participate meaningfully in planning and action for urban resilience?

What are the characteristics of urban agents, systems, and institutions that make them more resilient in the face of climate change?

In what ways can local governments influence national legislative and policy frameworks to create an enabling environment for urban adaptation?

How can cities engage in a meaningful way in global policy to shape the conditions in which they will need to respond for climate change?

Innovation ->  implementation -> institutionalization

Reflecting Post Sandy

Two years have now passed since Superstorm Sandy crashed into the northeast of the United States, showing Americans the need for climate action. Sandy remains one of the most expensive extreme weather events in history, costing corporations and governments over  $40B. And this year, a drought bit deep across the largest drought-declared area ever in Queensland, Australia. But extreme weather events like bigger, more destructive hurricanes; hotter, longer droughts; record-breaking wildfires and “biblical floods” are not just the domain of two of the richest countries in the world.

Last year at this time, we were, mourning the loss of over 6000 lives from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.  That tragedy cost $13 billion in economic fall-out.  In 2011, an unprecedented flood in Southern Thailand caused over $150 billion in damage.

In fact, ND-GAIN scientists have calculated that people living in least developed countries have 10 times more chance of being affected by a climate disaster than those in wealthy countries EACH YEAR; And the IPCC report released last week shows we are heading in the wrong direction.  That is a catalyst for all of us – hundreds or thousands of lives are at risk.  We must adapt.

Over the course of the last several years, the world’s awareness for the need to adapt has grown.

How do we respond, informing investments and policies that save lives and improve livelihoods in the face of global shifts?

Our meeting on November 5th served as an ideal platform for participants to deliberate development and business risks and opportunities as we explored successful adaptation efforts, predictions of future challenges and developments in adaptation measurement while learning first hand of trends evident from the ND-GAIN Country Index 2014.  Thirty speakers from all sectors shared their insights, and we released our Country Index to enhance the world’s understanding of the importance of adaptation and inform public and private investments in vulnerable communities.


Have a look at the recap video, watch footage of the meeting panelists, check out the TV, podcast and written press on the meeting and release, and let us know what you think.


Another Season of Climate Risk Looms: Southeast Asian Coastal Storms

As the global hurricane and typhoon season begins, a critically important gathering of the World Economic Forum on East Africa has just concluded in Manila, with nearly every session expounding on the tragic consequences and lessons learned from last year's Typhoon Haiyan.

Decision makers from the private, financial, and public and development communities committed to instilling more resilient measures in responding to and handling disasters. They expect to shape regional and industry agendas by addressing Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, opportunities for mitigating resource risks and vulnerabilities tied to climate change.

Among other issues, participants found common ground on such areas as climate smart growth, decision-making in a disruptive world, green and climate-resilient investments that encompass public-private resiliency funds for disaster-prone areas, solutions for climate and resource risks and enhancements of risk awareness and management.

In deliberating, participants considered some of the learnings from Hurricane Katrina, the devastating disaster that struck the Gulf region of the United States nine years ago this August. Its impact on the southeast region persists.

For one specific company, New Orleans' electric utility Entergy Corp., the hurricane caused an estimated $750 million and $1.1 billion in damages, according to an Entergy U.S. Senate testimony. It also galvanized the integrated energy company to transform itself into a true climate-resiliency leader.

Fortunately, the utility possessed a well-rehearsed emergency-response plan that included safety performance drills, a disaster-recovery plan, communications continuity using satellite phones during repairs, and swift internal infrastructure restoration. A learning organization, Entergy adopted lessons from Katrina and responded proactively to Hurricane Rita the very next month. It shut down various operations and reduced staff to keep more employees out of harm's way.

Entergy, of course, serves the Gulf region and can't just get up and move. Since Katrina and Rita, it has invested in wetlands restoration and other community assets to shore up resiliency. As for community resiliency, Entergy ensures a consistent supply of power.

An Example for Others

Entergy's story offers a great example to companies worldwide at risk from coastal storms. What does that risk look like?

In its latest stark report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes significant and worsening environmental risks to the world's poorer countries. And with rising seas, increasing storm intensity and population shifts to cities at the shore, the future promises to be truly tough for millions upon millions of people worldwide.

By increasing risks to human health, welfare, and ecosystems, climate impacts can threaten primary development goals -- reducing poverty, increasing access to education, improving child health, combating disease and managing natural resources sustainably.

The coastal areas, of course, are on the front lines. As tropical cyclone season arrives (and keeps us riveted to the news, worried about frequent tragedies) and continues through November, one startling fact relays their impact. Since 2005, in Southeast Asia alone, more than 172,500 people have lost their lives to tropical cyclones, and economic losses from them exceed more than $122 billion (in 2014 dollars), according to data from Aon Benfield Impact Forecasting.

Southeast Asia at Particular Risk

Of course, the ASEAN region is at particular risk since a disproportionate percentage of the population lives within five meters of sea level, according to the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, or CIESIN. With the exception of Laos, ASEAN countries possess more coastal area -- the percent of land less than 10 meters above sea level -- than 80 percent of the rest of the world's countries. And, again with the exception of Laos, ASEAN countries have more coastal population than 85 percent of the rest of the world.

November's deadly typhoon that leveled Tacloban, the Philippines, is likely to be repeated as coastal storms grow in populated areas in these low-lying coastal zones. Some ASEAN countries are less vulnerable and more prepared than others to adapt to these changes.

ND-GAIN, the world's leading index of country-level climate adaptation, ranks nine of the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei Darsulum doesn't share enough data to be included in the Index.) From Singapore, at 30th on the Index to Myanmar at 163rd, major variations exist in both vulnerability and readiness to adapt throughout the region. The ND-GAIN data indicates that all of the countries are trending up or are stable. Each could set clear priorities for improvement, including:

1. Improving the quality of trade and transport infrastructure.* 2. Establishing good early-warning systems. 3. Adopting building codes that reflect tropical cyclone threats. 4. Implementing insurance mechanism and financing facilities that recognize these threats. 5. Protecting natural capital such as wetlands along the Gulf Coast, sand dunes around New York City and coastal mangrove swamps in Thailand to cushion coasts from storm surges. 6. Increasing the percentage of paved roads. 7. Establishing redundancies in communication infrastructure. 8. Engaging with stakeholders from other sectors and determining who is active in protecting people, natural resources and infrastructure? Being proactive in seeking allies with similar assets at stake who also want to assist, and offering to engage with them.

This year, nature will make its increasingly destructive annual pass around the globe with its litany of tragic tropical cyclones, monsoons, forest fires and the like. However, each offers valuable lessons that we must recognize and learn from -- for our sake and that of future generations. A great deal is at stake.

Some cities and countries will face economic decline as corporations and others shift their valuable supply chains away from weather-threatened regions. Very simply, climate change rates among the key challenges that developing countries must recognize and respond to in planning for their futures.

*Note: According to the Trade and Transport Infrastructure: Logistics professionals' perception of country's quality of trade- and transport-related infrastructure (e.g., ports, railroads, roads, information technology), from the World Bank's World Development Indicators.

(This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joyce-coffee/another-season-of-climate_b_5419755.html)

Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: From Recognition to Action

This article originally appeared in Triple Pundit http://www.triplepundit.com/2014/05/bridging-climate-adaptation-gap-recognition-action/

Editor’s note: This is the first post in an ongoing biweekly series on the climate adaptation gap. Stay tuned for future installments here on TriplePundit!

Joyce Coffee, Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index Managing Director, opens last year's ND-GAIN Annual Meeting.Joyce Coffee, Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index Managing Director, opens last year’s ND-GAIN Annual Meeting. 

By Joyce Coffee

Recent data indicate that a gap exists between corporations understanding the big-picture risks of climate change and their actions to address those risks to shore up their bottom line.

MIT’s Sloan Management Review published results of the annual sustainability survey they conduct withBCG (aka The Boston Consulting Group). In Harvard Business Review‘s synthesis, they note: “The vast majority of respondents in a new Sloan and BCG survey say climate change isn’t a significant issue … And of the 27 percent that acknowledge climate change is a risk to their businesses, only 9 percent say their companies are prepared for the risk.”

In contrast to this data, another corporate survey—the annual World Economic Forum Global Risk Report–says, this year, four out of the top 10 global risks derived from the World Economic Forum’s global risk perception survey relate to climate disruption:

  • Water Crisis
  • Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
  • Greater Incidence of Extreme Weather Events
  • Food Crisis

These risks share space with other risks such as high unemployment, fiscal crisis and political and social instability.

As the report starts: “To manage global risks effectively and build resilience to their impacts, better efforts are needed to understand, measure and foresee the evolution of interdependencies between risks, supplementing traditional risk-management tools with new concepts designed for uncertain environments.”

The takeaway from WEF’s report: It’s up to all of us to build and refine the proper measurement tools to ensure we are creating business opportunities that offer rewards for humanity in this era of climate risk. A goal will be to pair other notable trends about sustainability progress to lead the way.

So, based on the WEF numbers, if corporations see a risk, but, based on the MIT numbers, they do nothing about it, that gap suggests that businesses are not yet sure how to manage the risk that a changing climate brings to their value chains.

Since climate adaptation relates to the direct impacts on our most important assets—our employees, our customers, our communities and our families–those who advise corporations possess a great opportunity to demonstrate to their clients the significant collateral benefits of a five-step plan of adaptation action. The five steps are outlined briefly here, and will be rolled out in-depth throughout a six-part, biweekly series on Triple Pundit.

  1. Examine the relative risks of geographies in supply chains. Where are your most vulnerable communities and supply chains? What resilience can be built to protect these people and assets?
  2. Identify relevant vulnerabilities in geographies where you maintain significant human and capital assets. Tools like ND Global Adaptation Index can help, plotting countries on a matrix and digging into specific country profiles. When assessing their global risks, corporate leaders can also employ other indices to inform their thinking—from Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, to the major credit-rating agencies’ foreign-currency ratings, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.
  3. Review your business-continuity plans based upon these vulnerabilities and risks, perhaps including an economic risk analysis for the most likely issues. If you are just beginning this assessment, draft up a list of questions based on research surrounding steps one and two. Use this information to inform your business-continuity plan.
  4. List strategies that could be used to prepare your most vulnerable assets. What investment is available and what processes must be taken to secure these assets?
  5. Create a short and medium-term plan that does three things: 1) Starts with adaptive actions you already are taking as part of your business as usual. 2) Sets priorities of adaptations with collateral benefits; e.g., mitigating greenhouse gas emissions (onsite stormwater management), improving employee morale (work from home options) or buoying your reputation (shoring up public health systems in one of your supplier hubs). 3) And, very importantly, includes financials for avoided risks.

Many cities, including TorontoNew York and London publish their adaptation plans, and they are worth a look for inspiration.

Read more in the Climate Adaptation Gap series:

  1. Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: From Recognition to Action
  2. Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: Relative Risks of Geographies in Supply Chains
  3. The Climate Adaptation Gap: How to Create a Climate Adaptation Plan

Joyce Coffee is managing director of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN). Coffee, who is based in Chicago, serves as the executive lead for related resiliency research, outreach and execution. Stay tuned for the next post in “The Climate Adaptation Gap” series on Tuesday, May 20. The series will deep-dive into the complicated look at supply chain risk assessment. Next up: “Relative Risks of Geographies in Supply Chains”

Business on the Front Lines

A benefit – and deep pleasure – of working at the University of Notre Dame is rubbing shoulders with eminent thinkers.  I had the joy last year of meeting Viva Bartkus, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the university’s Mendoza College of Business. She not only is a , University of Notre Dame who is not only a great sage, but also a fine director. In her course, Business on the Front Lines, Notre Dame graduate students serve in post-conflict societies to inspire  business initiatives through the humanitarian lens.  In two-week installments, they play a role in building long-term community capacity for local resiliency and stability by partnering with local institutions to give people a stake in peace. Earlier this week, I noted in a blog about food security that in employing its Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, the World Bank found flagging demand from the private sector in climate-resiliency issues.  Fully 90 percent of their PPCR resources were tapped by government, and only 7 percent by the private sector. The Bank cited as a possible cause the lack of development of markets in these communities.  Looking at the ND-GAIN scores for the countries Dr. Viva’s class has impacted, her course is embracing these markets.

Her goal: to explore the role of business in rebuilding war-torn communities.

Students have worked with Uganda farmers to consider cultivation measures to enhance the quality of the food they bring to

Viva notes that BOTFL is a “Journey of discovery where students ask ‘what should be the role of business in society.’”market; in Kenya to inform supply-chain variables with new business models and in Lebanon to determine new approaches to the public/private/political interface in government-run utilities.  After students depart, Catholic Relief Services staff members continue working with local experts to put them into effect.

Business on the Frontlines is demonstrating to students—and to the world—the powerful impact business can have in pulling populations out of poverty and stabilizing society following a conflict or disaster.  It’s a great example of building resiliency through private sector efforts.

Expert View: Five Issues that Promise to Heighten National Security Risks in a Changing Climate

At last month’s ND-GAIN annual meeting, Brigadier General (USMC RET) Stephen Cheney, the American Security Project’s CEO, laid it on the line.  For the military and for the world, climate change risk is real and grows every day.  And the military knows from experience that waiting for certainty on future predictions can prove disastrous. Reflecting on climate impacts with national security significance, a panel spelled out five repercussions of a changing climate.  Cheney himself laid out four risks:

  1. Sea level rise in Asia will displace millions of people.  In Bangladesh alone, more than one million of its 160 million people will need to relocate. Relocations cause tensions that historically have erupted into civil conflict in which the U.S. military has responded..

  2. Forest fires, such as the one in Russia that elevated wheat prices and perhaps sowed the seeds of the Arab Spring in the Middle East, will put more natural resources at risk, causing scarcity-driven conflicts. (In an earlier post, I noted that the U.S. Defense Department estimates that 6,000 square kilometers of African land for agriculture – roughly the size of the West Bank and Gaza[1]will disappear by 2060 so the bargain over food resources will worsen.)
  3. Extreme weather events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines will require military response for humanitarian aid.
  4. Arctic ice melt will trigger a tussle over territory, leading to conflict between the nations that claim ownership.

The fifth effect of a changing climate with national security implications was offered by Marcus King, associate professor of George Washington University’s The Elliott School of International Affairs. His was a promising trend – that water scarcity has fostered more incidents of cooperation than conflict.  For instance, he mentioned the agreement by Jordan, Israel and the Palestine Authority to rejuvenate the Dead Sea.

He noted that the Pentagon refers to climate change as an instability accelerant, and cited projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others that by 2030, global demand for water will exceed the water supply by 40 percent.  Already, in the tinder box of the Middle East, water trends are alarming.  In Syria, 800,000 farmers were forced to move to cities because of a two-year drought and, in Yemeni, aquifers could be depleted by 2020.  For Egypt, which relies on neighboring countries for all of its fresh water, conflicts driven by water could erupt as Egypt’s neighbors consider building dams for their energy security.

As Roger-Mark De Souza, director of the Wilson Center of Population, Environment, Security and Social Change foretold, with 1.5 billion, or more than one-in-five, people worldwide living in conflict or post-conflict areas, climate vulnerability will worsen crises.

[1] Approximately 6,020 square kilometers, The World Bank


Climate as a Business Opportunity

Navigant Consulting recently published a well-researched blog, “Facing Climate Change and Adapting,” that reminds us of the billions of dollars the UN Green Climate Fund is expected to generate to support climate adaptation in emerging economies. The article also addresses the growing market demand for climate adaptation services, regardless of the $2 billion global multilateral mechanism, that grows at a brisk pace. If this sounds unlikely, just think of the dollars infused when countries have adapted to other mega trends, such as preparing for and recovering from World Wars.  While the blog identifies engineering consulting firms, desalinization technology and construction firms among those that stand to benefit from a changing climate, other sectors already have begun to benefit:

  • The pharmaceutical industry will grow as vector-borne diseases adapt to geography changes.
  • Agricultural innovation in seed and fertilizer already is occurring (see BASF an Monsanto) to accommodate not only different precipitation but also varying temperatures.
  • Networking technologies are becoming hotter commodities, especially those that address the growing challenges of resource scarcity, the land-water-food-energy-climate nexus and the increasing impact and frequency of weather extremes.

While corporations involved in climate-change work often have been on both sides of the proverbial coin – either as mitigation leaders, looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or climate avoiders looking to avoid prohibitive policy changes, a new generation of climate leaders is emerging.  They see the great value in placing adaptation at the forefront of their work, and they’re well positioned to capture real market value from the billions of adaptation dollars out there.


The Auto Industry's Real Climate Risk

An article caught my attention last week from the Auto Industry Action Group, entitled “How Climate Action May Impact the Auto Industry.”   Initially, I thought it might tell the story of an industry that has seen significant disaster-related setbacks taking charge to prevent future problems. Actually, it proved to be a polemic about how to protect the industry from climate-related regulations.


Like the finance industry, which gained important business-continuity planning lessons from 9/11 and more recent disasters for example, Goldman Sachs’ stellar disaster-recovery preparations that enabled it to keep its lights and power on in lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy). I presumed that automakers were also familiar with risk mitigation, drawing lessons from disruptions to their supply chain after Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.


I bet there are a few leaders in the auto industry who are assessing the realities of the climate-change issue  and are mulling risk evaluations that, for instance, include a look at the relative vulnerability by country of origin of their major suppliers – China Japan, Korea and Mexico.  As of 2011, Japan and Korea possessed a similar level of readiness, and Mexico and Japan’s vulnerability matched, but China was the least prepared and most vulnerable of all of them. (Check out the vulnerability/readiness matrix here to compare countries.)

Others closer to home may be thinking about these risks. The environmental choir, namely The American Sustainable Business Council, published an interesting article about small business risks from climate adaptation.

I can only assume that many car dealerships, which stand at the tail end of the industry’s value chain, consider themselves small businesses. Without climate-adaptation leadership, they could find themselves in trouble.  Among several compelling statistics noted in the article, an estimated 25 percent of small- to-mid-sized businesses don’t reopen after a major disaster, and 57 percent of small businesses have no disaster-recovery plans.

These small businesses represent our American jobs and the backbones of our communities. As climate-related risks grow at home and abroad, we should make it a priority to find the right tools to help all business owners manage for a dramatically changed future.


Urbanization and climate adaptation – how at risk is your supply chain?

Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm in the U.K., noted recently that “resilience to major weather ….events is not improving in some of the world’s most important growth markets, leaving large sections of their populations, essential infrastructure and economies at ‘extreme risk.’” That view aligns with that of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.  The open-source GAIN Index underlines that climate change, population growth, urbanization and resource scarcity jeopardize urbanizing nations.

Why should we care?  Because we care about humanity and should make it a priority to help the most vulnerable adapt.  And because supply chains and investors are exposed to greater risk than anticipated as natural disasters exacerbate other political and societal risks.

Maplecroft describes an interesting contrast.  Its Socio-Economic Resilience Index ranks the U.S. at 169th and ‘low risk,’ even though it features in the “20 most at-risk countries for exposure to hurricanes, tsunamis, extra-tropical cyclones, storm surges, flooding, volcanic risk and wildfires.“  The Philippine’s socio-economic resilience to natural disasters, meanwhile, ranks No. 65 and ‘high risk’ Because, while it has registered strong economic growth over the last four years, “better disaster resilience has not materialized,” which keeps its index ranking unchanged.

The WEF Global Risks 2013 Eighth Edition posits that the twin threats of economic upheaval and accelerating climate change will collide during the next decade, delaying adaptation efforts while exposing nations to unpredictable financial loss from disasters. It contends that denser cities are more threatened by higher temperatures, exacerbated drought, storms and heat waves, although rural areas certainly are vulnerable from many of these weather-related events.  I do see a big climate risk derived from the ongoing population shift toward coastal zones.

In the CDP Supply Chain Report 2012-13, “Reducing Risk and Driving Business Value,” 70 percent identify a current or future risk related to climate change.  Seventy-three percent say they feel that climate change presents a physical risk to their operations.  More than half of the supply-chain risks identified due to drought and precipitation extremes already are affecting respondents’ operations or are expected to have an effect within the next five years.  According to the survey, the primary impacts will be a reduction/disruption in production capacity and increased operational costs.

Since 2011, the World Economic Forum has been leading a Supply Chain Risk Initiative to consider safeguards for global supply chains.  Among other priorities, it aims to:

  • More explicitly assess supply chain and transport risks as part of procurement, management and governance processes
  • Develop trusted networks of suppliers, customers, competitors and government focused on risk management
  • Improve network risk visibility, through two-way information-sharing and collaborative development of standardized risk assessment and quantification tools
  • Improve pre- and post-event communication on systemic disruptions and balance security and facilitation to bring a more balanced public discussion


Combining those with a Ten Point Checklist for Making Corporations Resilient and Asking the Climate Question: How to Create a Climate Adaptation Plan, would deliver a robust execution plan.

So, as you consider your supply chains, you might want to ponder if food shortages, fragile states, variable water supplies and the vagaries of emerging economies have affected it before, since these geopolitical, societal, environmental and economic factors are likely to be stressed simultaneously by climate change in the future.

Especially since these issues are likely to take priority for limited resources, it is worth considering how climate adaptation can be a collateral benefit of actions aimed primarily at nearer-term economic, geopolitical, societal and environmental factors.  If we don’t, twining these threats with accelerating climate change could collide in the next decade, delaying adaptation efforts while exposing companies to unpredictable financial loss from disasters.


North America -In the Eye of the Storm

As the East Coast grapples with the dire aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a new study by Munich Re reveals that weather-related extreme events have most affected North America in recent decades. Research by the German reinsurer of 30,000 records of natural catastrophes showed such disasters have risen five-fold in North America over the last 30 years. For me, the Munich Re report, “Severe weather in North America," simply becomes the most recent reminder that climate adaptation must be a corporate priority. The report notes that the five-fold increase in weather-related losses in North America the past three decades compares with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America.  It also explains:

Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways. Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events and, in the long run, most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.

Past exchanges on this blog have been about extreme heat and precipitation, but perhaps the most germane for the moment is our discussion about Corporate Learning from Past Disaster.

It’s too soon to tell if Sandy has had a disproportionate impact on the private sector, but it’s likely that flood damage will net out a major cost to New York City’s businesses, even as Mayor Bloomberg and city officials consider infrastructure improvements to shore up against future storms.

Businesses newly committed to climate adaptation will find resources from peers with their own plans. They also may find good tools from government-backed organizations that discuss what climate adaptation looks like and, importantly, how to create an institutional commitment to climate adaptation.

Two that I especially like are:

“Private Sector Engagement in Adaptation to Climate Change,” a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Making Cities Resilient:  My City is Getting Ready a guide for the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which I tweaked for a corporate audience here.

It’s likely the storm will prod corporate risk managers and business-continuity planning managers to take stock and begin instituting telecommuting policies, diversifying their supplier chain to other geographies and advising the small businesses upon which they rely about how to develop a resiliency or adaptation plan.

As Hurricane Sandy galvanizes us to examine more closely our climate adaptations, I’m inspired that you, readers, are taking leadership.

It’s Time for NATO to Look to the Future Climate

Soon after he became NATO Secretary General in December 2009, Anders Fogh Rasmussen summed up the military alliance’s approach to dealing with the security implications of climate change in three words: “consultation, adaptation, and operation.” Appearing on a panel at a United Nations’ conference on climate change, Rasmussen maintained that the organization has “a real edge” to help tackle any such challenges. Since then, Rasmussen and NATO ministers have shown general disinterest in the subject. His 2011 annual report didn’t mention climate at all. And a two-day NATO science workshop in late April last year on climate change drew mostly academics and little notice. During the upcoming summit in Chicago on May 20-21, NATO heads of state and government will discuss many issues, but climate isn’t expected to be one of them.

What an oversight. Especially since Rasmussen’s predecessor, in a June 2008 speech addressing the future of the Alliance, called on NATO to prepare for a period of global insecurity sparked by climate change. Frankly, it’s time for Rasmussen and the Alliance to take proactive steps toward preparation. That means preparing a new type of “army”—recruits who include climatologists, epidemiologists, geologists, agricultural scientists, foresters, hydrologists, and even cultural historians.

Why? Because climate change is real. Not-so-subtle changes already are afoot on our planet from climate shifts, including extreme natural storms and disasters, higher temperatures, and rising ocean levels. It’s just a matter of time before peoples start squabbling—and worse—over scarce water, food, or other vital resources triggered by mutable climate conditions.

It’s happened before. A largely agrarian period in Europe known as the Little Ice Age (1560-1660) sparked the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) among other armed conflicts.  Fought throughout Europe, it was the longest continuous war in modern history, and a recent study, led by geographer David Zhang of the University of Hong Kong, contends that climate change played a major role. Cooler periods in China and the resulting scarcity of resources over the past millennium are also closely linked with a higher frequency of wars, according to Chinese researchers.

Dr. Zhang believes extreme climate events—both hot and cold—could have a disastrous effect on the earth’s ecosystem and may trigger social, economic, and political upheaval—possibly even war. The U.S. National Intelligence Council even evaluated the topic in 2008. Recently, the Mother Nature Network identified seven places where climate change could trigger conflict: Southern Africa, Bangladesh, Western China, Kashmir, the Sahel region of Africa, Central Asia, and Lake Victoria in Africa.  And consider the Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is disappearing into the water as sea levels rise. Already, Maldives’ president says the government is putting aside income from the annual billion-dollar tourism trade to buy land elsewhere, should the worst happen.

Naysayers, of course, will scorn such talk, especially if they believe climate change is a myth. Still, it was retired U.S. military leaders who asserted in an April 2007 paper on North American climate change that global-warming water problems—either too little or too much—will make poor, unstable parts of the world even more prone to armed conflict, acts of terrorism, and the need for international intervention.

To be sure, the connection between warming and war is extremely complex. But it still might serve NATO well to step up its preparations for when sensitive situations—which may not be far away—arise from changes in climate. NATO offers solutions, and climate change doesn’t have one. It would seem to be a natural shift in NATO priorities as European military conflicts ease.

NATO can play an especially critical role in helping develop methods and tactics to adapt to changing climate conditions and mitigate future risks. The facts bear it out: Adaptive societies face fewer conflicts. So by assuming a much larger role now in preparing for climate change adaptation, NATO could serve to increase social, economic, and environmental resiliency and lessen the risk of conflict.

Are you taking note, Secretary General Rasmussen?


Climate and Society - A Look Back at 2011

Happy Lunar New Year!  It’s 4710 on the lunar calendar and, having reflected on the myriad end-of-year/start-of-year lists in my inbox since December began, Jan. 23 seems a good day to reflect on the most thought-provoking events and items concerning corporate climate adaptation in 2011.  Here are my top three – plus a wish for 2012:

  1. Studies show that one-in-five major civil conflicts since 1950 may be linked to climate extremes associated with El Nino. Those big climate disturbances rooted in the tropical Pacific Ocean remind us to prepare for the collateral dis-benefits possible from shifting conditions.
  2. Japan’s multi-layered tragedy – the worst earthquake there on record followed by a meter-high tsunami and concluding with the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown – prompts us to consider the domino effects of extreme events. It also changes the parameters of corporate extreme-event scenario planning.
  3. Reflecting rising temperatures between 1980 and 2008, farms around the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have, suggesting that climate change is having an impact faster than we are adapting.

Between 1980 and 2008, climbing global temperatures took millions of tons of wheat off the dinner table, scientists say. Some countries experienced big losses due to weather (red), while in others, wheat production held steady (blue). (Science/AAAS)

My wish for 2012:  That companies boldly embrace the opportunity that climate adaptation sparks – leveraging intellectual property to sell climate-proofed and climate-resistant products.  I’ve mentioned some winners in previous blogs.  Here’s another set:

  • Construction equipment – for clearing debris and rebuilding weather-stricken communities
  • Mold removal – for helping communities cope with basements swamped by overbank flooding or basement backups
  • Power tools – for chopping up felled trees that fall victim to arbor pests that weaken them or intense storms
  • Auxiliary-powered equipment- such as generators and transistor radios for use in power outages during extreme weather

And what are your wishes?


Can Insurers Drive Corporate Climate Adaptation?

Can Insurers Drive Corporate Climate Adaptation? It’s been a tough year for insurance companies: blizzards in the Midwest, fires in the Southwest, severe tornados in the Southeast, a damaging Oklahoma hailstorm and flooding along hundreds of rivers.

And it makes me ask: Can the insurance industry drive a change in corporate behavior toward climate adaptation?  Judging from the September 2011 report, “Climate Risk, Disclosure by Insurers,” by the non-profit Ceres organization, the answer appears to be not yet.  The report notes that information from a limited number of insurers responding to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners survey found that the vast majority (88%) don’t even have a climate policy, let alone specific climate change–management investment policies in place.

But a changing climate demands that insurers price physical risk differently and manage for those new liabilities that threaten their investment portfolios.  The industry is focusing much of its attention on a narrow set of coastal risks, but as 2011 has demonstrated, extreme weather in the non-coastal U.S. is becoming costlier, too.

So what might it require for the insurance industry to change?  Since every catastrophe leaves lessons learned behind, we could be moving toward greater awareness sparking changes in the insurance market.  With each new extreme event, the disaster scenarios on which the industry models its risk become more realistic. And as a recent Bloomberg article makes clear, those models need to reflect a lot more than just wind, hail and water damage. They also should consider how communities tolerate risk and whether they invite it by allowing buildings to be sited in vulnerable locations.

That’s a concept that Swiss Re, which I consider a climate-adaptation leader, uses to manage its portfolio.  Swiss Re now speaks about climate risk – not climate change – to reflect its understanding that when natural disaster destroys the built environment, it’s not nature’s fault. Rather, it’s ours for building in the wrong place, the wrong way.  It maintains that the insurance industry should focus on “loss mitigation,” encouraging potential customers to keep their property from being destroyed in the first place.  (and by the way, Swiss Re is also capitalizing on climate adaptation as an opportunity: They've developed tailored insurance products, including weather risk insurance, for rural poor in developing countries).

Let’s hope that its influence trickles down to the rest of the market.

Climate Adaptation – Corporate Learning from Past Disasters

  I advised a group of thought leaders recently at a workshop on Climate Adaptation:  Building a Community of Practitioners, funded by the Kresge and Johnson Foundations.  It proved to be a great opportunity to consider climate adaptation with a group of seasoned professionals who have helped their communities thrive after weather disasters.  As with any good workshop, I left with more questions than answers.  Today, though, let me share some key takeaways:

  1. Climate (extreme weather) events have a disproportionate impact on companies.  When floodwaters entered the Des Moines (Iowa) Water Works, the damage cost the government $14 million to repair. Overall, flood damages to that city’s businesses were estimated at between $300 - $400 million. Source: Project Impact (Clinton administration NOAA program)
  2. Corporations that often benefit from a changed climate (Wal-Mart saw an uptick in business from Hurricane Katrina, Target Corp. in Florida for annual hurricane protection and Siemens for power generators) are good places to identify climate adaptation leaders who understand the risks, prevention strategies and opportunities.  Sometimes, corporate engagement in disaster scenarios has occurred initially through Chambers of Commerce.
  3. Corporations already engaged in significant climate adaptations (Chiquita Banana finding alternate supplies for their delta-produced bananas) also offer lessons in business continuity planning, risk management, and community engagement.  And private sector tourism entities may also prove to be low hanging fruit for climate adaptation engagement.
  4. The broader climate adaptation community needs corporations for a variety of reasons but, primarily because corporations have powerful influence over elected officials (and elected officials are key to resource allocation, research and executive-level promotion). The President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) (conference participant), charged with enforcing the president’s executive order to all federal departments to prepare and execute climate adaptation plans, may not translate its work to compel the private sector for awhile.
  5. Speaking of the CEQ, private institutions have lots to learn from governmental institutions about what climate adaptation is and how to create an institutional commitment to climate adaptation (this how piece may be the bigger surprise for corporations).
  6. Companies prepared for a climate-related event can use the event to make major changes (instituting telecommuting policy, diversifying supplier chain to other countries and decreasing office space: employee ratios), to enhance their reputation through community engagement.  (Big  Box retailers identified as cooling centers during heat events; hardware stores offering reduced-price disaster-recovery goods and installation advice; C-suite advisors helping small businesses to develop recovery plans).
  7. We have an opportunity to translate science into action for corporations. Focusing on hazards occurring now may be helpful since evidence is crucial for engagement.  Corporate risk management and business continuity planning managers may be our best areas of entry.