Better Climate Monitoring Could Aid Business Decisions

by | Dec 4, 2013

NaSA monitoring Greenland icecapA report out this week may help companies as they try to determine the greatest climate-related risks to their business – but it also hints at how much firms still don’t know.

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises, produced by a National Research Council-appointed panel, says that some predicted climate change effects are unlikely over the next century. These include poor heat circulation in the Atlantic bringing bitter cold to coastlines, the New York Times reports.

Other predicted effects are still massive concerns, however. Many coral reefs are likely to die within decades, threatening fish supplies for millions of people. The Arctic is losing its summer sea ice much faster than earlier predicted. And we can already see climate’s effects in the form of the mountain pine beetle infestation that has ravaged forests in the American West and Canada.

The scientists behind the report are advocating an early warning system for climate effects, which can occur abruptly, NPR reports. The authors say humans are doing a poor job of monitoring greenhouse gases in the Arctic, and of watching the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, whose melting has the potential to raise sea levels by up to 25 feet.

 “When you think about gradual changes you can kind of see where the road is and know where you’re going,” Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, said. “When you think about abrupt changes and threshold effects, the road suddenly drops out from under you.”

Verdantix has suggested that sustainability officers, when communicating with senior leadership, must focus more on tangible effects to companies’ bottom line. That includes talking about how climate change has already hurt the company or its competitors, and how it could do in the near future. The lack of available data on sudden climate change effects is just one example of how difficult sustainability leaders’ job is: not only do they have to translate science into finance, they often don’t have the scientific data they need to begin with.

We’ll explore the shift to the “profit-centric paradigm” for climate change strategies in tomorrow’s issue of EL Analysts.

Takeaway: New climate research is clarifying which effects we should be concerned about, but also highlighting huge data gaps.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor of Environmental Leader PRO.

Picture credit: NASA, study of Greenland ice sheet

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