January 21, 2019

Balance and Climate Resiliency

Joel Nodelman

About the Author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

Why Resiliency?

Over the years our work has addressed both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Mitigation is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation is hardening assets to make our infrastructure stand up to unpredictable and violent weather. Some people believe these concepts stand in opposition to each other. Some think money spent on adaptation will divert vital resources from other essential work. They focus on improving our carbon balance to ensure a safe future for our children and grandchildren. Others believe over-emphasis of mitigation compromises our ability to respond to current climate conditions. They focus on protecting our short-term health and wellbeing.

We prefer a more holistic approach that does not inflame the tensions between camps. Climate resiliency requires a balance between adaptation and mitigation. They do not stand in opposition. They support each other and enhance the likelihood of sustaining our society through unpredictable, and dangerous times. Balance is the purest definition of resiliency. We need to plan and target applications of each approach. Climate adaptation provides a safer pathway to the future. Climate mitigation ensures that the future will offer safety and economic security for future generations.

With these thoughts in mind, we must be careful to balance challenges and opportunities to both harden our infrastructure systems, and reduce our carbon footprint. In reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must consider how changing climate conditions could compromise the effectiveness of emission reduction strategies. Similarly, when we undertake work to harden assets, we must consider the impact of adaptation actions on greenhouse gas emissions. It is a continual balancing act. Work must address climate challenges with a constant eye on opportunities to improve. The goal is to support not only organizational objectives but also create strategic advantages.

How do we Achieve Balance in Resiliency?

Balance does not happen by accident. It requires planning.

Climate resiliency objective setting helps the organization establish priorities and allocate resources to achieve goals. The organization avoids wasting time and money addressing an adaptation issue in a way that increases greenhouse gas emissions. This outcome would challenge their ability to meet internal, and government imposed carbon emission targets.

A balanced approach to setting objectives ensures consideration of all relevant issues and potential outcomes. Objective setting is insurance against unplanned adverse consequences. Work should contemplate the full scope of problems the organization faces. For example, every climate resiliency initiative should consider the range of climate hazard risks that could affect the organization. This analysis includes both the hard assets, such as mechanical systems and softer assets such as the human capital of the organization. A fully balanced approach considers both existing and proposed developments, the culture of the organization, financial goals, and the broader socio-economic impacts on the surrounding community and globally.

Balance and Climate Resiliency – Financial Capacity

Balance and Climate Resiliency

Money is Always an Issue

In climate resiliency work, practitioners often overlook the financial capacity of the organization to sustain the initiatives. This gap may develop when consultants offer recommendations to address climate issues. Their contract scope often limits the consultant’s recommendations. They may not know the financial constraints and objectives of the organization.

There are two ways to address these gaps. First, specify organizational objectives within the consultant’s scope of work. The organization can provide precise direction to the consultant about suggestions that would work for the business. Second, consultants should work with their clients to probe their financial capacity, facilitating useful and pragmatic recommendations.

Financial capacity is often an issue for smaller organizations or municipalities. These organizations face the same range of climate change pressures. However, they do not have abundant financial resources to apply to the issues. Often, other priorities and demands put constraints on a limited budget. These limitations should not impede doing climate resiliency work. The impact of climate change on smaller communities can be more severe than in larger cities. Bigger municipalities may have more capacity to absorb climate impacts. If left unaddressed, responding to climate events can financially cripple a community. However, the range of options a small organization can apply to the issue is different. Big engineering projects may not be practical. Changes in procedures, contingency reserve funding, and even insurance may offer reasonable resiliency.

In all cases, the resiliency program should live within the means of the organization. Planners should take a broad view of these options, carefully allocating limited budget to achieve positive outcomes and capitalize on opportunities. Once again, even within the financial planning of the organization, balance is critical.

Balance and Climate Resiliency – Staff Engagement

Often, organizations manage their climate resiliency program through a dedicated department, under the direction of organizational leadership. The program can fall prey to single-channel communication, the resiliency group reporting to leadership and leadership providing direction back down the same channel. While this approach may appear efficient, it suffers from a critical flaw. Commutation can become singularly focussed, aimed at meeting the expectations of only one set stakeholders. While meeting leadership exceptions is essential, the long-term success of any resiliency initiative depends on buy-in from those individuals in the organization that must do the work. Resiliency planning must address this reality though early, active, and sustained communication with those folks.

A good resiliency program incorporates the opinions and ideas of staff. It may draw some of its most pragmatic and effective resiliency initiatives from informed staff who know, and buy into, the program objectives. The program is not a stand-alone initiative. Things get done correctly, not out of fear of punishment, but because resiliency is the organizational culture.

Active communication with staff about resiliency and how climate pressures can compromise the success of the organization, combined with openness to the opinions and ideas of rank-and-file employees, is the surest way to instil a resiliency culture in the organization. Engagement is critical to balancing program objectives with the demands of the real world. It melds the strategic vision of leadership with a pragmatic, hands-on understanding of day-to-day operations. Balance paves the road to success.

Identifying Opportunities

Finally, resiliency initiatives are most successful when they go beyond addressing climate impacts and expand to consider climate opportunities. Climate change does indeed pose significant threats. The climate continues to change. It may be hard to fathom how an organization can identify opportunities through all of this gloom. However, merely responding to hazards does not make the organization more resilient. A reactive approach will leave an organization exposed to costly threats. We believe there are many strategic opportunities hidden within climate threats.

Organizations that establish effective response planning and financially stable programs will be the organizations that survive in a changing climate. At the same, time organizations that effectively manage their carbon footprint align with government policy and are more likely to receive favourable treatment in their project development activities.

Opportunity identification is a team activity. It must draw on the strategic vision of leadership while capitalizing on ideas of rank-and-file employees. It must consider the needs of external stakeholder groups including the local community, aboriginal groups, environmentalists, and governments. These are sustainable development activities. They attempt to balance the financial success of the organization, environmental sensitivity, and broader socio-economic demands. Again, balance is the key to the way forward that sustains success. Included in this analysis, should be a review of both climate impacts and carbon footprints. By incorporating these factors in the evaluation, the organization will ultimately identify approaches that sustain its operations, buffer it against a changing climate, and support a prosperous and resilient future.

We are Here to Help

We have many years of experience setting objectives for cliamte resiliency programs.

Feel free to contact us to discuss how we can help you achieve balance in your climate resiliency program.

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