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The Hill: New Report Links Costly Extreme Weather to Climate Change

Ceres President Mindy Lubber blogs about a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week that reaffirms the link between a changing climate and a rise in extreme weather — and how businesses are already dealing with the impacts of extreme weather.
by Mindy S. LubberThe Hill Posted on Nov 22, 2011

Last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirming the link between a changing climate and a rise in extreme weather might have ideologues grumbling, but it comes as no surprise to business leaders. They’re already dealing with the effects of extreme weather—the kind scientists tell us will be ever more common as Earth’s climate continues heating up.

Extreme drought and flooding are already affecting companies that depend on steady streams of agricultural raw materials, from cotton to coffee beans to corn.

Some farmers’ insurance rates are climbing as a result, according to Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg, whose company insures farmers across 24 states.

“Farmers are having to spend more of their operating budgets to insure themselves, resulting in smaller margins,” says Friedberg. “At the end of the day, either farmers are going to make less money and farming is going to become a less sustainable activity, or commodity prices are going to need to climb.”

And it’s not just farmers feeling the pain from the increased frequency of extreme weather. Property managers in some areas are coping with extreme drought that buckles building foundations, and lengthy periods of triple digit temperatures that drive up cooling bills. Insurers are struggling with growing losses in coastal areas where sea level rise is occurring along with increasingly severe tropical storms.

From reassessing building design and location to reinforcing supply chains and re-vamping risk-management calculations, businesses are already doing things differently to cope with more extreme weather and a warmer world. If you believe government should be run more like a business, you have to wonder why so many American politicians refuse to think about taking the same sort of common-sense precautions.

Businesses are obligated to evaluate risk and anticipate problems in order to protect shareholders’ investments and stakeholders’ interests. Around the world, they’re evaluating the risk of extreme weather and climate change and planning accordingly—just as they would for any other potential risk from fire to competitiveness to civil unrest.

Take the global real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle, which manages more than 1.8 billion square feet of property. Its Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services, Dan Probst, says that JLL clients are increasingly factoring climate change into their planning. Companies “think twice about locating a mission-critical data center in hurricane-prone zones, or locating energy and water intense operations in areas where reliability and availability might be an issue.”

Probst is even seeing clients shift their preference for location to northern climates, all other factors being equal, where the impact on energy costs from increased temperatures will be less.

Businesses like JLL are working to be part of the solution. JLL works with clients to reduce their buildings’ energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and Climate Corporation has developed innovative drought insurance that helps farmers stay solvent.

Last month, 285 heavyweight investors representing more than $20 trillion in assets urged governments and international policymakers to step up the fight against climate change. In a joint statement, they called for policies that stimulate private sector investment in climate change solutions that can create jobs and ensure the world economy’s long-term stability.

But businesses can’t solve this problem alone. They need effective policies that level the playing field and give industries certainty.  They need the federal government to step up to the plate.

This year’s disastrous weather has brought the costs of inaction into sharp focus. In the United States alone, 2011 has seen 10 extreme weather events costing at least a billion dollars each. That’s more billion-dollar weather catastrophes than any year on record.  In America and around the world, we have seen record-shattering heat waves, 100-year floods, and epic droughts -- exactly the kind of extreme events scientists tell us to expect more of as the world continues to warm.

Business leaders know the writing is on the wall. Earth’s climate is heating up. Our political leaders need to take action now to prevent the worst impacts, and to help us prepare for what we can’t avoid.

Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors and public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change.

Read the post at The Hill

Meet the Expert

Mindy S. Lubber JD, MBA

Mindy S. Lubber is the president of Ceres and a founding board member of the organization. She also directs Ceres’ Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly $10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Mindy regularly speaks about corporate and investor sustainability issues to high-level leaders at the New York Stock Exchange, United Nations, World Economic Forum, Clinton Global Initiative, American Accounting Association, American Bar Association and more than 100 Fortune 500 firms. She has led negotiating teams of investors, NGOs and Fortune 500 company CEOs who have taken far-reaching positions on corporate practices to minimize carbon emissions, water use and other environmental impacts. She has briefed powerful corporate boards, from Nike to American Electric Power, on how climate change affects shareholder value.

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