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 trends toward new climate are steepening, and Al has renewed his presentation with this fresh, passionate talk at last month’s TED conference. In it he speaks to the need for us to make changes at the political level, to insist that our government respect the urgency of the situation and act to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The facts about the climate speak for themselves. But we now have an opportunity to be the generation – the people living on earth at this critical juncture – that can take the actions required to reverse the catastrophic trends. We don’t want a new climate; we want to keep the one that has allowed so much life to thrive on the planet for so long.

Take a look. It’s stirring stuff, straight from the heart.

Climate change will vary in its degree and impact from location to location, so the scientific models that cover the whole planet don’t tell us very much about the regions where we live and plan our futures. Ireland’s government commissioned its weather service and the University College of Dublin to come up with a model just for its island nation, and then report on what it found.

That report – called by this article in the Business Post, “the first of its type” – was expected to forecast “reasonably significant changes” in the Irish climate by mid-century. Reading the specifics, as quoted below, I’d go along with the “significant” part. Not so sure about the “reasonably” qualifier, though.

The north and west, the reports finds, are likely to become wetter. The climate change models show that average temperatures are likely to increase by 1 to 1.4 degrees by mid-century and by as much as 33.5 degrees by the end of the century. The models tend to move towards greater uncertainty later in the century, as it is unclear how effective efforts to combat climate change will be.

While variations in average temperatures may seem insignificant, small changes can have huge effects on climate. Two degrees of global warming, it has been estimated, would give Finland a climate similar to that enjoyed by the south of France today. The south of France, meanwhile, would end up with a climate like North Africa’s.

Changes in climate are gradual, but they can cause significant differences within a relatively short period of time. For instance, the study finds that Ireland’s winters are no longer as cold as they were half a century ago – there has been an increase in temperature of about half a degree in the last 50 years.

Winter rainfall is expected to increase. The climate modelling predicts that, in the period 2020-2060, winters will be 5-10 per cent wetter than at present. By the end of the century, the increase in rainfall could be as much as 25 per cent above current levels.

Correspondingly, by mid-century, summer rainfall is predicted to decrease by 5-10 per cent, while by 2100, the decrease is expected to be 10-18 per cent.

Average wind speeds are expected to show small increases in the winter months, and slight decreases in the summer months initially, while, by the end of the century a general decline in wind speeds is expected.

Rising sea temperatures will lead to more intense weather systems, though many of these are expected to be at their worst to the north of Ireland. This country will see fewer but stronger storms, the report predicts.

Storm surges and waves at sea will get bigger, particularly on the west coast. An increase in storm surges of over one metre in height and a parallel increase in the height of waves is predicted.

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.

Joshua Busby is an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote an essay for the Washington Post based on a special report he wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations. The main point of the essay was that “homeland security will require readiness against climate change.” This is not simply to prevent the occurence of many coastal Hurricane Katrina-like disasters, but also because the devastating effects of climate change in many poor countries will lead to the kind of unrest that will require costly military intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

…scientists tell us that poor countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia, are the most vulnerable. They are likely to be hit hardest by climate change, potentially putting hundreds of thousands of people on the move from climate change-related storms, floods and droughts. In such circumstances, outside militaries may be called on to prevent humanitarian tragedies and broader disorder.

Busby is strongly advocating the position that we should be taking protective and preventative action now, rather than waiting until the impacts are upon us.

As Hurricane Katrina showed, investments in risk reduction are likely to be much cheaper than disaster response. I support substantial investment in risk reduction: coastal defenses, building codes, emergency response plans, and evacuation strategies, among other measures. I also recommend enhanced vulnerability assessments to know where the risks are.

People who resist taking preventative action tend to point to the possibility that such actions will cost money and may be unnecessary, but more arguments are being made lately for designing “no regrets” measures that will provide benefits whether or not they turn out to have prevented damage. Here are Busby’s main concrete recommendations:

Internationally, developing countries need tens of billions, yet the U.S. government has done very little to support this agenda. I recommend several activities to help developing countries prepare for climate change, including $100 million (over several years) for military-to-military environmental security workshops. I recommend another $100 million per year to support an African Risk Reduction Pool, a common fund from which Defense, State, and other agencies would draw from to support security in Africa. These expenditures would be part of a broader international risk reduction effort that I argue should be on par with the president’s five-year, $15 billion emergency plan for AIDS relief.

Adaptation alone, he maintains, will not solve this looming problem. We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly around the planet, which will require much smarter diplomacy than we’ve been practicing lately.