By Shazre Quamber-Hill (Director of Strategy & Impact, Resilience First) and Amy Bailey (Director of Climate Resilience and Sustainability, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions)
September 18, 2023: The bustling energy of New York City gearing up for Climate Week, the UN General Assembly and the Climate Ambition Summit set the backdrop for a candid discussion between senior sustainability and strategy leaders representing 18 diverse businesses and organisations from various sectors, on the pressing need for businesses to embrace resilience and adaptation in the face of a changing climate.
The private roundtable and lunch, jointly hosted by Resilience First, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and Resilience Rising, explored the leadership role businesses can and should play in catalysing the systems-wide transformations necessary to enhance their – and society’s- resilience to the physical impacts of climate change.
There was a general agreement that the urgency for businesses to engage in resilience and adaptation efforts is more apparent than ever. With the realisation of a 1.5° and beyond world, the private sector is awakening to its role in addressing climate change. However, fully realising this role can be challenging for a number of reasons. These were explored in some detail, along with the challenges and opportunities for businesses to demonstrate leadership, over the course of the 2-hour discussion. Below we share some key takeaways:
1. Understanding Risks and Opportunities
Many private sector companies have not yet fully appreciated the risks and opportunities presented by physical climate impacts. Misalignment between actual and perceived risks mean key decision-makers, particularly those at the board level, are not yet adequately prioritising planning for climate impacts. Resilience and adaptation represent untapped opportunities within companies and across the marketplace. To accelerate action, a framework with specific targets and a focus on educating senior leadership is essential.
2. Varied Approaches Across Sectors
Not all sectors face the same challenges when it comes to resilience building. While the process may be relatively straightforward for some, others grapple with critical issues in supply chains and infrastructure. Inconsistent data and limited forward-looking climate models complicate decision-making processes. This underscores the need for sector-specific strategies.
3. Highlighting Interdependencies
Companies' physical risks can highlight their interdependencies with broader systems and networks. Investing in the resilience of supply chains and local communities can bring substantial benefits, even if measuring the return on investment is less than straightforward. The cost of inaction may ultimately exceed the cost of early investment.
4. Motivations and challenges
The barriers to addressing resilience and motivation for action varies across companies, driven by factors such as previous financial impacts, investor pressures, regulatory environments, and exposure to climatic conditions. Consistency in measurement, education, and building a marketplace that rewards resilience were identified as key factors in overcoming these barriers.
5. Need for Cultural Shift and Collaboration
Achieving a cultural shift within organisations is crucial for integrating resilience into business strategies. This shift emphasises the importance of local adaptation plans and understanding the human impact. Collaboration among businesses, governments, and organisations is essential to create a common language for understanding resilience and driving action.
6. Importance of Narrative and Communication
Effective storytelling and communication are vital to convey the impact of resilience and adaptation. Expanding narratives from a sole focus on climate change mitigation to demonstrating tangible consequences and benefits of resilience measures can motivate greater commitment and investment in these efforts.
7. Leaders are Already Emerging but need Support to Accelerate Impact
The necessary elements for corporate action on resilience already exist within companies. Examples of corporate action are emerging across sectors, from broadening the scope of enterprise risk management to providing resilience solutions. A common language would enhance visibility and understanding, accelerating private sector action.
The discussion emphasised the urgent need for action, the challenges faced by different sectors, the importance of collaboration and storytelling, and the untapped opportunities within the corporate world. As the private sector's need for climate resilience continues to grow, there is a clear demand for a common language and best practices to guide strategic decision-making.
The Roundtable marked the launch of an ambitious joint initiative by C2ES, Resilience First, and Resilience Rising titled "Catalysing Climate Resilience with Private Sector Action: A Global Business Pathway and Framework for Building Climate Resilience”.
Through January 2024, our organisations will engage key business stakeholders to foster a community of practice committed to accelerate climate resilience action. We will convene businesses and key stakeholders throughout the fall to gather insights for a comprehensive position paper to be published in Q1 2024. These virtual convenings will also serve as the foundation for developing the "Principles for Corporate Climate Resilience Leadership", to be introduced at COP28.
The initiative is a significant step toward building a more resilient future, highlighting the vital role businesses play in shaping a sustainable world. It is a direct response to our ever increasing challenges that require transformative collaboration to secure a brighter future. Climate resilience is not just a goal; it is a continuous process and a shared responsibility that demands our leadership, innovation and collective action.