New report links costly extreme weather to climate change


“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.

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