Almost all organizations have business continuity or emergency response plans that they prepare, exercise or test, and update on a regular basis for a variety of threats or shocks such as a cyber-attack or disruption to critical functions, operations, facilities or supply chains.
However, because there is a belief that there will be time to react to slow-moving changes in climate, few organizations have considered and addressed systemic, chronic and gradual changes in the environment, economy and society like deforestation, injustices and deteriorating infrastructure, as well as acute events such as health epidemics, extreme temperatures, health epidemics or mass migration and the cascading impacts that these trends can generate. Further, preparations for acute events typically rely upon models of recent past events instead of future projections.
Two lessons that we can draw from the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Changes to the natural environment do not move linearly, but rather in step functions.
- Slow-moving phenomena that appear well off in the horizon can become crises in short order. Experience may not provide a reliable model of parameters of the next crisis.
Through WSP’s Future ReadyTM program, the firm encourages and enables its staff to research and consider the implications of emerging, future trends related to climate change, society, technology and resources; address these trends in project solutions and support clients and the communities they serve to lead the way in innovating towards a complex and uncertain future. WSP helps its clients consider future scenarios and build resilience to acute shocks and chronic stressors.
Resilient organizations track global trends, test their capabilities, operations, supply chains and value chains so that they can adapt their operations and minimize disruption in the face of a crisis. They have been preparing for possible challenges, testing situations, and have plans in place to adapt to the acute shocks their systems, employees and customers may face, as well as the chronic, systemic issues that can trigger these crises.
One emerging framework to enhance organizational resilience to the chronic stressors and acute shocks that climate change presents is the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
Originally released in 2017, the TCFD recommendations “emphasize the importance of transparency in pricing risk—including risk related to climate change—to support informed, efficient capital-allocation decisions. The large-scale and complex nature of climate change makes it uniquely challenging, especially in the context of economic decision making.”
Although the TCFD framework focuses primarily on climate change, the approach taken to prepare for global changes like climate change can support any hazard a business, community or nation may face in the future. Keeping frameworks like TCFD in mind and gathering the lessons we are learning from this pandemic about its impacts to employees, business functions, operations and supply chains will better prepare these companies for future risks and enhance their business resilience.
We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and interconnected world — presenting both challenges and opportunities. For the first time in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report — which analyzes global, decadal risks — the most likely global risks for 2020 were all environmental, including; extreme weather events, climate action failure, natural disasters, major biodiversity loss and human-made environmental damage and disasters. With hindsight we can certainly add global pandemics. The report identified the failure to act on climate mitigation and adaptation as the risk likely to have the greatest impact over the next 10 years.
Few organizations have playbooks that currently plan for the chronic threats that trigger these types of crises. Throughout our careers, we have developed and tested playbooks that plan for chronic changes in the climate, including sea level rise, higher temperatures and more severe extreme weather, also taking into consideration changes in technology, population, resources and societal norms.
However, they are not the norm and tend to be company- or organization-specific instead of “whole community,” involving all stakeholders within a community. Climate change, like the COVID-19 pandemic, will require broad action by the global community.
“Whole community” is a term commonly used by FEMA and “calls for the involvement of everyone — not just the government — in preparedness efforts. By working together, everyone can help keep the nation safe from harm and help keep it resilient when struck by hazards, such as natural disasters, acts of terrorism and pandemics. A whole community approach includes individuals and families, including those with access and functional needs, businesses, faith-based and community organizations, nonprofit groups, schools and academia, media outlets and all levels of government, including state, local, tribal, territorial and federal partners.”