The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has released another great report, this one addressing businesses and how they should consider the potential impacts of climate change on their operations, their models, their strategies and their planning. While ICLEI serves as a guide for local governments and various activist groups such as the Post Carbon Institute and Transition Towns help organize civic groups, businesses have so far lacked frameworks for dealing with climate forecasting.

Adapting to Climate Change: a Business Approach is a document that all businesses – large, small, local and global – should read.

Climate change represents a new and somewhat daunting topic for many businesses. The challenge is compounded by the diverse and uncertain projections of changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, extreme events, and other effects. This paper outlines a sensible business approach to analyzing and adapting to the physical risks of climate change. It focuses on a critical first step in assessing these climate impacts: understanding the potential risks to business and the importance of taking action to mitigate those risks. Not all businesses need to take action now; this paper develops a qualitative screening process to assess whether a business is likely to be vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change, and whether a more detailed risk assessment is warranted.

The most active local governments you can find in the U.S., and probably elsewhere, are members of an organization called ICLEI. These are strictly government – not grassroots – based memberships, but where local governments take the lead, grassroots activism is usually encouraged to thrive.

It was founded by the United Nations in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Now that the focus is on climate change, they’ve turned the acronym into their name – ICLEI (pronounced “ICK-lee”) and added the tagline: Local Governments for Sustainability. Their local international membership includes over 700 county governments, municipal governments, provincial governments, networks of local governments and big city governments like Los Angeles, New York and London.

We provide technical consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local government in the implementation of sustainable development at the local level. Our basic premise is that locally designed initiatives can provide an effective and cost-efficient way to achieve local, national, and global sustainability objectives.

ICLEI provides information, delivers training, organizes conferences, facilitates networking and city-to-city exchanges, carries out research and pilot projects, and offers technical services and consultancy. We also provide software and tools to help local governments achieve their sustainable development goals.

If your local government is not yet a member of ICLEI, it’s a good community to urge them to join. They’ll learn from the lessons of other locations and they’re transitioning from focusing only on sustainability to including adaptive activities for the unavoidable impacts to come.

The closer you get to the poles, the greater the deviation of temperature from its historic averages. So, Alaska leads all other states in the degree of impact from current climate changes. For them, the writing on the wall is much plainer than for the Lower 48 and Hawaii.

Alaska’s Climate Impact Assessment Committee issued its report on March 17 and a balanced report it was, recognizing the upside of a warmer Alaska along with the downside. Benefiting the state would be increases in tourism, research and commercial shipping. (Not to be negative, but if the tourism and research are increasing because the environment is changing so fast, those benefits may be not only fleeting, but ironic in the extreme.)

On the other hand, global warming continues to threaten dozens of rural communities on or near the coastline, with accentuated erosion problems. The impact of climate change will also be felt in commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries, and sport and subsistence hunting, as well as in the way the insurance industry deals with Alaska, the report said.

The Committee remanded its recommendations to the governor’s new “sub-cabinet for climate change,” and,

recommended that the Legislature consider a coordinated process for village relocation efforts, a review of capital planning statutes to determine if they meet the needs of potential future impacts, and support of federal efforts on mapping, tide stations, U.S. Coast Guard presence and permafrost thaw.

So Alaska, it seems, will be the first state to begin relocation planning to deal with current and expected climate change impacts. Beside loss of permafrost and migrating coastlines due to the softening of terrain, the committee also forecasts changes in migratory patterns of wildlife that will affect indigenous lifestyles around the Arctic Circle and changes in boreal forests that are increasingly threatened by insect infestations due to warmer winters.

And, of course, the insurance industry has recognized the need for changing its policies in light of Alaska’s altered climate.

The insurance industry also will be reviewing insurance regulations, potentially making significant changes that will be necessary as a result of global warming, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the report noted.

Firehose blastingFor the past year I’ve been following news feeds from over a dozen of the most informative, science-based blogs on global warming and climate change (pick your favorite term). I’ve had Google News Alerts set for climate change, climate adaptation, flood and drought. I’ve bookmarked hundreds of sites, documents and articles and posted 126 articles under the Climate Frog blog title.

I believe in science and in the findings that serious scientists contribute to our knowledge about the environment. I believe them when they warn us about the future impacts of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

This past year brought us Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. It brought us the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, validating the work of 2400 science experts and signed off by 193 governments. We had the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. We saw extraordinary and record breaking flooding in England, the American Midwest, China, Bangladesh, China and Africa. We saw devastating droughts across Australia, China (again), South America and both the Southeastern and Southwestern U.S.

Scientists reported on the faster than expected shrinking of the Arctic Ice Cap and melting of major glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic.

Within that one year of observation I witnessed the foreshortening of the forecasts for climate change and its impacts. Where scientists thought in 2007 that we might have 3 or 4 decades to get things right, they are now thinking in terms of 2 or 3 decades. There’s no guarantee that the threatening conditions won’t continue to accelerate in an unfortunate direction.

So it became clear to me, sometime last fall, that we’d better get moving on the preparation front. My sense of urgency is only heightened by the fact that our federal government is intentionally dragging its feet in acknowledging that there’s a threat worth doing something about. It’s spurred by the fact that even the majority of us who believe that we should be turning greener are not really committing to changing our lifestyles and habits. It’s whipped into a frency by the fact that the U.S., China and India are planning to build about 850 new coal-fired carbon-spewing power plants.

All of that slow response, regressive action and poor preparation at the national and grassroots levels makes it crucial that we begin some organized and concerted effort right now to identify local risks and ready our local communities to deal with them. And getting ready means learning how to work together to mitigate both our long- and short-range risks.

Firehose

cliffbilbao.jpgResilience is the capacity to adapt. We humans, who mostly live in communities facing the prospect of new climates and the impacts that come with them, are entering unexplored territory. We don’t know when our local climate will change, or when we’ll even know that it has. We may find ourselves dealing with strange new weather every season, and adjusting to it will be our ongoing task.

In any case, we know that those new climate impacts will be specific to our localities, and that each community will need to search for solutions to living with them. We don’t know how much help our local government will be able to provide.

It’s likely that climate adaptation will be a bottom-up movement – designed, led and maintained by grassroots groups. To the extent that those groups can get a head start on the challenges of new climates, they will be stronger for dealing with crisis conditions.

Presilience is a learn-by-example site, that will highlight the best examples we can find of groups working on the local level to make a difference. Today, those groups are working on projects like greenhouse gas mitigation and conservation. Someday, today’s best practices and qualities will be adopted to confront the future challenges of new climates.

If you’re part of such a change-making group, or if you know of one, let me know. We need to learn and share good examples to make us all smarter. We need to understand what relationship qualities make such groups run smoothly? And if they don’t run smoothly, how do they tolerate disagreement and still move on to make differences?