Staying agile and resilient to future climate risks

Looking for a cozy read under extreme weather conditions? May we suggest a few chapters of the invaluable, two-part Fourth National Climate Assessment to warm you up.

As required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the U.S. Global Change Research Program has issued its fourth assessment of the “effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity,” projecting major trends in the next 25 to 100 years. Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report (2017), provided “foundational science” for climate change. The report scientifically demonstrated that it is extremely likely that human activities “are the dominant cause” of global warming; there is no other convincing alternative reason for this alarming trend.

Volume II: Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States was issued on November 23, 2018 (Black Friday) and “focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways.” The report does not shy away from describing how our extreme climate threatens the economy, international trade, humanitarian assistance (famine), national security (exacerbation of conflict and human migration), and health risks. It also projects economic damages, by sector, associated with failing to mitigate emissions.

Volume II is an essential resource for businesses and communities on how to adapt to inevitable further climate change in the years to come. CAT-Law Navigator therefore returns to the report to encourage general readership and to highlight the report’s analysis of the state of environmental “adaptation” practices in the private and public sectors. 

Volume II, Chapter 28: Reducing Risks Through Adaptation Actions

Reducing Risks Through Adaptation Actions describes ways communities and businesses have started to address climate change. It notes, however, that while awareness, assessment, and planning are underway, implementation is not yet full-blown. The following key observations come out of the Chapter:

  • The public and private sectors have started to implement adaptive practices in response to climate change (beyond the initial adaptation steps of “awareness,” “assessment,” and “planning”), but they are not common everywhere. Plans that assume the future climate will be the same as it is currently are ineffective, as are plans with short-term foci. For example, a community might focus on making buildings less sensitive to climate impacts. The longer-term approach would be to revamp land-use regulations to limit building in high-risk locations in the first place.
  • Reversing the assumption that climate will stay the same is impeded by the fact that using climate projection tools and differentiating between slow and fast-moving environmental threats are skills that are still very new to many individuals responsible for assessing risk.
  • The chapter suggests using “iterative risk management,” a methodology that continuously monitors and adjusts for changes in climate risk. Several types of actions should be integrated into this “adaption framework,” including (1) reducing exposure (e.g., move people from threatened locations), (2) reducing sensitivity (e.g., changing structures/building codes), and (3) increasing adaptive capacity (increasing the ability of people to adapt and respond to climate impacts). New York City implemented all of these adaptations in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, for example.
  • Recognizing that future climate change occurs on a timescale should aid the “resilience” of an adaptive program. In other words, understanding how far in the future an impact may occur will positively influence current decision-making on proposed adaptations. Timescales are something businesses and communities should continue to study and understand.
  • The benefits of proactive adaption greatly exceed costs: while adaptation costs range from tens of hundreds of billions of dollars per year, adaptation is expected to save several times that amount over time. The chapter suggests that “a benefit-cost ratio of greater than 1 suggests a promising project to undertake.
  • New approaches can further reduce climate risk, including “mainstreaming” adaptation into existing programs. The report highlights some industries that are incorporating “climate resilience” into their existing programs. For example, the engineering community is making changes to its design standards in an effort to be resilient.

Takeaway: while the Chapter’s assessment of climate adaptation practices does not specifically address the insurance industry, it does provide important perspective on the need to stay agile and resilient to future climate risks—a resilience that will be necessary for individuals and businesses alike in years to come. 

Posted by Megan E. Shutte