Given the inability, or unwillingness, of political and business leaders to curb global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s no surprise that governments and companies are increasingly talking about adaptation or resilience. It’s only prudent. We need to prepare for climate disruption.
But it seems strange that businesses would tackle the question of adaptatation without, simultaneously, doing all they can to push for climate regulation. At least, that was my reaction last month when I attended a Washington event on adaptation organized by the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). Everyone acted as if extreme weather and a warming planet were all but inevitable.
And perhaps they are. But as companies, understandably, prepare for a warming world, it’s incumbent upon them to engage politically in any way they can to slow down emissions. That’s the topic of my latest story for Guardian Sustainable Business.
Here’s how it begins:
Back in 1736, Benjamin Franklin famously advised his Philadelphia neighbours that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Franklin started the city’s first fire department, as well as a fire insurance company, but he knew, as we all do, that preventing fires is better than fighting them, or cleaning up afterwards.
Franklin’s words came to mind in mid-July when a Washington think tank called the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) released a report called Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change. The report found that “most major companies see extreme weather and other climate change impacts as current or near-term business risks,” and it highlighted companies that are taking steps to adapt and adjust to a volatile climate.
Indeed, more than one-third of global S&P100 companies “report that they have already experienced the adverse effects of extreme weather and climate change,” the report said. At an event to mark its release, executives from National Grid, American Water, Entergy, Rio Tinto, Weyerhauser and The Hartford talked about how they are already preparing for climate-related droughts, floods, heat, water scarcity, supply chain disruptions and the like.
“We are experiencing the consequences of climate change, here and now,” said Eileen Claussen, the president of C2ES, which was formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. She wasn’t talking about the sweltering, 95-degree temperatures that have plagued the nation’s capital for days, but she might have been. (By the way, did you know that Americans use twice as much air conditioning as we did 20 years ago? That’s adaptation for you.)
What no one talked about, though, was the urgency of preventing climate disasters by regulating carbon emissions. On that topic, US companies that recognise the climate threat have for the most part been quiet. The one prominent exception has been those companies that have joined with Ceres to sign its Climate Declaration. Among them are General Motors, Unilever, Mars, Nike and Starbucks – and none of the six companies showcased by C2ES for their work on resilience.
I was especially struck by the fact that The Hartford, one of the companies showcased by C2ES, has a climate policy that goes on at great length while saying not very much (….” all forms of change present both risks and opportunities for leadership…”) but nowhere calls for US climate regulation. It’s stunning that the insurance industry, which has so much to lose, remains a bystander in the US climate debate.
You can read the rest of my story for The Guardian here.