As contrarians argue about Sandy’s cause, businesses count the climate cost

Forget the spurious arguments about climate change, businesses are more aware than ever of the need for climate resilience

31 Oct 2012, 11:02

This is not another blog post about whether or not climate change "caused" Hurricane Sandy and the tragic, deadly devastation it has wreaked on America's eastern seaboard. After all, both sides of this "debate" know the arguments so well they can conduct this fatuous and disrespectful row in their sleep.

No, you cannot categorically link any individual storm to climate change, but yes, climate change and the increased energy held in the global atmospheric system does increase the frequency and intensity of such storms. Whether you prefer to use the analogy of weighted roulette tables, loaded dice, or (my personal favourite) underperforming sports teams, the evidence that human activity is increasing weather-related risks is compelling. There is no point arguing yet again over the linguistics of whether or not this increased risk constitutes climate change "causing" a hurricane, particularly with climate contrarians who pretend to want an intellectual argument over probabilities, but in fact just want to try and find a new spurious way to try and discredit climate science.

No, this is not another blog post about whether climate change caused Hurricane Sandy. This is a blog post about how Hurricane Sandy will cause climate resilience.

Forget the highly politicised argument about the causes of this tragedy for a moment, and instead ask whether those communities, businesses, and politicians tasked with clearing up the damage are now more or less likely to accept warnings that these types of crises are likely to become more frequent.

At the level of individual businesses and state bodies the need for climate resilience and effective disaster response plans has been hammered home in the most painful of ways. Over the coming weeks we will see how the most prepared and resilient businesses are able to bounce back to full operational effectiveness relatively quickly, while those who did not have robust infrastructure and plans in place will face months of suffering.

Around the world, those businesses savvy and large enough to have climate risk strategies in place will be dusting them down and checking they are up to date, while many others who do not yet have such strategies in place will be commissioning them. The global insurance industry will once again be forced to ask in public the existential crises it has been asking itself in private for the past 10 years: how can we continue to operate effectively in a climate hostile world where "extreme" looks increasingly like the new normal?

The climate sceptics can keep howling at the moon all they like, serious business leaders will be looking at the events in the US (not to mention the recent heat waves in Russia, floods in Asia, and droughts in Africa) and asking how can we be resilient and fit-for-purpose in the face of these changing climatic patterns.

At a corporate level that means the development of more robust climate risk and adaptation plans, and greater lobbying of politicians for increased focus and investment on adaptation, for too long the poor relation of mitigation in national climate change strategies.

But more broadly it means a fundamental shift in investment and corporate decision-making. Having seen the chilling pictures from New Jersey and New York are there any prospective investors in low lying properties on the east coast of the US who are not now having second thoughts. Any business or investor that is not undertaking comprehensive climate resilience assessments before making long term property, infrastructure, and supply chain decisions is sadly asking for trouble.

We will have to wait and see if this tragedy will have a significant impact on the presidential election race, the fragile US economic recovery, or public opinion on climate change, but with the US increasingly battered by extreme weather events it seems certain this latest disaster must now have an impact on attitudes towards climate resilience.

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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray

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