Tools Are Not Enough to Achieve Climate Resiliency

Climate Resiliency – Tools are not Enough

Many Tools – Many Twists

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him.

Arthur Miller

Over the years that we have been working in climate resiliency, we have developed multiple assessment tools.  In the beginning, there were no climate risk assessment tools.  Measuring climate change risk was new.  We seemed to be breaking new ground, answering new questions, and addressing new issues almost daily.  The PIEVC Protocol was the outcome of our early efforts. The Protocol is a robust methodology that assessors have successfully used many times across Canada and internationally. In fact, the Climate Lens of Canada recommends the PIEVC Protocol as one of its standard approaches.

Over the same period, other professionals addressed the same issues through their own lenses.  Their work resulted in the development of multiple climate risk assessment tools. Each tool offers its own twist on useful climate risk analysis. They all offer valid solutions for assessing climate risk. Each addresses particular project objectives and client needs. 
 
Frequently, people ask us: 

Which climate resiliency assessment tool do you recommend?  

Folks are often surprised when we answer:

Whatever works for you.  

In climate resiliency, tools are not enough. We firmly believe that the most fundamental assessment activity is asking the right questions. How a tool phrases questions, or where they may fit within a particular risk assessment task sequence, is much less critical.

The Quest for the Perfect Tool

The focus on finding, or building, the perfect climate risk assessment tool, in reality, is a red herring.  In the overall scheme of things, assessment is only one piece of a robust risk management process. At its best, risk management is a cycle of continuous improvement. Ideally, the cycle incorporates scanning the environment, identifying hazards, analyzing risks, treatment, and monitoring, inevitably ending up back at scanning.  

The quest for the perfect tool stems from the belief that a perfect assessment will provide perfect results.  We don’t need to do anything more.  In fact, the quest assumes that climate change risk assessment is a one-time project.  Once completed, we can shelve the report and get on to more pressing matters.  Unfortunately, this assumption is dangerous, as it gives organizations a false sense of security. After all:

 We have checked on our climate risk, and everything was OK.  

As we have said, in climate resiliency, tools are not enough. Failure to continuously scan and identify new climate hazards can leave organizations exposed. The perspective that the old assessment covered all the risk can lead the organization to miss potentially dangerous threats.

Beyond the Resiliency Assessment Tool

Every climate risk assessment that we conduct yields a set of recommendations.  However, project scopes and budgets generally allow very little room for developing climate risk treatment plans.  When they do, they tend to focus on standard engineering or operational changes only. They often ignore the broader range of risk treatment options that may be available.  This outcome may stem from the view that completing the risk review is sufficient.  However, the assessment is never enough!  

Risk assessment should provide clients with a list of climate risk priorities. They can then develop the list into practical and effective climate risk treatments.  Overall, alternatives must blend into a comprehensive climate risk treatment plan. Additionally, the plan should places treatment efforts within the context of the organization’s overall priorities and strategic plan.  This approach applies an enterprise perspective to climate risk. With this in hand, decision-makers to blend climate resiliency planning within the global strategies of the entity.

Climate Resiliency Assessment Should Provide Guidance

Climate Resiliency - Tools are not Enough 1
Libraries full of Outdated Doorstops

Fundamentally, we believe that climate risk assessment should provide this holistic guidance to clients.  It should prepare them better to develop treatment options. As well, the assessment should provide context allowing the organization to compare options with the multitude of competing priorities.  Without this context, the assessment may be nothing more than a bulky report. In fact, the report may have no particular meaning to the organization as a whole.  Once the assessor leaves, the work can fade into the dim recesses of corporate memory, only to be revived if and when something terrible happens.  I call this, “making doorstops”.  These are huge reports, never opened, and only used to prop open doors and gather dust in the corner.  Over time, organizations can accumulate entire libraries of outdated “doorstops”.  

This approach to climate risk assessment not only wastes resources, but it also creates broader legal exposures for the organization.  Once an organization identifies a risk, they must take action. Additionally, they must document the actions they have taken. Failure to do so might be construed to be negligence in legal proceedings. As such, this can leave the organization on the hook. They can be held responsible for not only for the event but also the ensuing third-party financial costs for not taking reasonable action.

Climate Resiliency – Beyond the Tool – Inclusive Assessment

In the absence of an enterprise perspective, climate risk assessment results remain within individual departments. The assessment may reflect the priorities of those business units, but may not necessarily align with broader organizational objectives.  This approach often neglects the needs of relevant stakeholders within the organization. For example, interested parties may include financial managers, human resources specialists, legal services, insurance departments, and others. These folks can provide valuable perspectives on appropriate organizational risk responses.  

We have worked with clients that express considerable frustration about communicating their climate risk priorities to their decision makers. They complain that the decision maker’s inability to understand the significance of their proposed treatment options creates barriers to progress.  This outcome can be an unfortunate side-effect of scoping the assessment too narrowly. Generally, narrow scoping fails to set the foundation for a more comprehensive and holistic treatment plan development.  This approach creates silos within the organization’s climate risk treatment initiatives, competition for resources, and bitterness between departments.

Holistic Climate Resiliency

Holistic climate risk management promotes overall organizational resiliency.  A comprehensive treatment plan can go well beyond standard technical and operational responses to climate risk.  For example, re-engineering a piece of infrastructure may be the least cost-effective approach to the changing climate.  Perhaps, the best answers include other options, such as:

  • Appropriate insurance;
  • Establishing retention funds to address issues when they occur;
  • Emergency management and response planning; and
  • Business continuity management.  

For sure, we would include traditional engineering or operational options in the mix. However, we strongly support establishing the cost-benefit of those options within the context of the overall range of available options.  The organization could require this analysis within the climate risk assessment. Alternatively, they could treat it as a second phase of work, conducted either internally, or by a qualified external expert.

With holistic risk treatment options identified, supported by robust cost-benefit analysis, decision-makers can assess the overall merits of climate risk treatments. They can place those options within the context of business objectives and strategic plans. Finally, they can make balanced decisions that truly promote organizational resiliency.

A Call To Action

As professionals managing climate change risk, we need to broaden our perspectives.  We know that the work we do is vital.  The climate is changing, and climate change poses significant threats to our engineered systems, our objectives, and financial security.  However, we also must recognize that these risks are not necessarily imminent.  This fact can create a false sense of security for decision makers. They may feel very comfortable focusing on other, pressing, and very concrete, issues.  We must recognize this reality in the way we structure our climate resiliency work. We must expand our focus beyond resiliency assessment tools, and onto holistic climate risk management. As such, we must provide decision makers with the appropriate context to make reasoned, and balanced, decisions regarding climate resiliency options.

Organizations

For organizations, this means placing climate risk assessment within the context of an overall climate risk management strategy.  Organizations must recognize that completing the assessment is merely one step of the program. They need to build the subsequent stages of treatment, monitoring, and scanning into the process.  Organizations should document this approach in the scope of contracted assessment services. With this background, the consultant can provide concrete advice on both climate risk and realistic risk treatment options.  The organization should expect the consultant to provide a cost-benefit analysis for their recommendations. Alternatively, they should develop that analysis in subsequent work completed internally or through contracted services.  Above all, the organization must treat the assessment as part of an ongoing cycle, and not as a one-time project. 

Consultants

For consultants, this means providing input to clients about scope development, whenever possible. They should ensure clients understand that in climate resiliency, tools are not enough. They should emphasize the need for effective risk treatment plans and the cyclical nature of holistic risk management. The client may opt to develop treatment plans in subsequent work. Even so, consultants should document potential treatment options during the execution of the assessment, as much as possible.  

Often, during climate risk assessment, subject matter experts and staff jump to solutions, especially in workshops.  While these comments may not seem relevant at the time, they often provide a solid foundation for treatment plan development.  As much as possible, we should document these observations. We can record these observations in the current report, or use them as a kick-off point for follow on work.

Climate Resiliency – Tools are not Enough

We must recognize that most organizations are not climate risk experts.  They are hiring consulates for their expertise, and we should provide expert opinion about effective climate risk management programming, wherever possible. Finally, we must ensure that organizations approach climate resiliency as a process and not as a quest for the ideal climate assessment tool.

Let’s Talk

We have conducted many climate resiliency assessments in Canada and internationally, and have developed pragmatic treatment plans for our clients.  We can help you establish an enterprise perspective for your climate risk management activities.   If you wish to discuss your climate resiliency needs, please feel free to contact us.

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