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Is climate change a business continuity issue?

Get free weekly news by e-mailWhatever the cause, most scientists agree that climate change is taking place. David Honour asks what the implications are for business continuity managers.

Climate change is happening. That is the blunt consensus of most scientists and governments around the world. Many believe that the main cause is greenhouse gases, others are not convinced, believing instead that it is due to natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate. Either way, the earth is getting warmer at a relatively fast rate.

The UK government’s Environment Agency set out the issue very succinctly in a reason paper entitled ‘The climate is changing – time to get ready’. The paper states: “Climate change is the biggest threat to our future… Climate change means that extreme weather events will become more frequent and more dangerous… By 2100 we can expect global temperature increases of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees centigrade. At the upper end of this range, changes are likely to be so extreme that it will be difficult to cope with them.”

As well as increasing the risk of severe weather events, global warming will result in an increase in sea levels across the world. The rise will vary depending on location and will be exacerbated by tidal effects.

So, as risk professionals we can see that there is a significant general threat from climate change. There are various possible scenarios each having a higher or lower probability of occurring. But does the general threat also pose a specific business continuity threat to your business? The answer is ‘it depends’.

The impacts of climate change will vary from country to country and from location to location within that country. Therefore the level of risk faced by individual organisations will also vary.

The most severe impact that business continuity managers need to consider is that of the increased risk of flooding and, in the long term, difficult decisions may need to be taken to relocate businesses away from vulnerable locations. This may be the case if:

  • Your organisation has facilities which are situated in a location within a few metres of sea level. If this is the case the facility is probably at long term risk of periodic severe flooding, or eventual inundation as sea levels rise beyond a level where protection is no longer viable.
  • Your organisation is situated in or near a current flood plain. In some areas global warming is expected to increase general seasonal rainfall amounts, as well as enhancing the intensity of severe rainfall events. (In the UK, for example, heavy rainfall events which occur every two years on average are expected to increase in intensity by between five and twenty percent [Source: Environment Agency]). Increased rainfall has the obvious impact of increasing the risk of flooding.

Other impacts which can be planned for include the possibility of increased power supply problems caused by extremely hot weather. As has been seen in recent years hot weather results in a severe drain on local power supplies due to increased demand, mainly by cooling systems, and this trend is likely to be made worse as global warming pushes up average temperatures and makes extreme heatwaves a more common experience. Local power-rationing systems may become more common, as may unexpected power outages. General power quality and consistency could also be affected. Business continuity planners may need to assess current power protection and generation methods and consider increasing capacity and longevity. The type of power generation plant used may also need to be considered, with increasing oil prices making fuel more expensive for conventional generators. In the long term, some input from solar-powered generators may be a sound investment.

Drought is another threat which is increased by climate change, and companies which are heavily dependent on water supplies for manufacturing processes may need to take this into account. Again, business continuity managers might need to look at the long-term possibility of relocation away from threatened areas to regions with a more reliable water supply.

In conclusion, for some businesses climate change will have very little impact; for many it will have only a minor impact, but for some it will be real business continuity issue requiring difficult mitigation decisions. Every business continuity manager has a duty to assess the risks and to determine the threats to their organisation. Business continuity is about the long term survival of your organisation and climate change may be one of the biggest threats you face. Climate change is happening; it cannot be ignored.

David Honour is editor of Continuity Central



Good article which paints a grim view of future losses and interruption.

I would point out though that there is a great deal of complacency out there especially in the UK where the Environment Agency fails to engage my industry.

My company provides flood protection for businesses and whilst we have already fitted systems to Wallmart’s head office in Arkansas, there is little or no take up in the UK even with the big corporate property owners and management companies.

Despite the fact that we produce what are arguably the best systems in the world response from areas such as Carlisle has been negligible.

Pleased to supply case studies if anybody is interested.

Gavin George
Floodguards Systems Ltd Tel:  +44 (0)118 9733535

Your piece seems to me to underplay the ultimate effects of global warming.

The idea that in the extreme case, somewhere later in this century, all we have to worry about is power fluctuations due to hot weather, and flooding in some areas, is a bit like saying that nuclear war might result in some radiation sickness! It is very clear that the most likely major result of significant climate change is rebellion and war. Food and water supplies will become scarce, and people will fight for these resources. Extreme changes in temperature - probably much colder in UK, will place an intolerable burden on our power generation capability. Many people will die! Once we pass the point of no return, the human race may well find it difficult to survive.

Tim Thomson

Date: 22nd April 2005 •Region: World •Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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