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To Stay Competitive, Businesses Urged to Make Climate Resilience a Priority

While most companies say they would benefit from investing in adaptation, few have actual plans in place to boost their resilience to warming

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 6, 2011
Albemarle Climate Change Adaptation Project

As Duke Energy attempts to scale back its 100 million-ton greenhouse gas footprint to reduce future emissions, the utility giant is also studying how it can cope with the damage already being caused by climate change.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based power company is in the third and final year of a $1 million effort with the nonprofit to slow saltwater intrusion in the Albemarle Peninsula, near the Outer Banks.

By creating oyster reefs and planting 20,000 different kinds of trees in the estuary, the research team aims to ward off rising sea levels and restore the ecosystem's peat-rich soils before the peninsula is submerged in a century.

Heather Quinley, Duke's director of energy and environmental policy, said the project marked the start of the utility's efforts to develop climate preparation plans for the areas it serves.

It has also made the utility one of a growing, but still small, number of companies trying to address adaptation, as global warming shifts agricultural patterns and alters coastlines.

Duke has about 4 million electricity customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. In the Midwestern states, more than 90 percent of its power comes from coal-fired power plants, while the other states use mostly nuclear and hydropower.

"This is not part of our [greenhouse gas] mitigation strategy," she said of the project at a June 27 conference on adaptation at the in New York City.

Albemarle will "help us understand how to make that project scaleable to other vulnerable communities and other vulnerable ecosystems," she added.

With Adaptation, 'A Competitive Edge'

Global financial and environmental institutes are urging all businesses to take similar steps in safeguarding customers, workforce and supply chains against the increasing impacts of man-made climate change — particularly in developing countries with limited means to recover from disasters.

"Community risks are business risks," Heather Grady, vice president of foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation, said at the conference.

She noted that the foundation is spending $70 million over a period of several years to spur initiatives on global warming resilience in poor and vulnerable areas worldwide.

"The 'community' is not an abstract stakeholder concept. This group constitutes business's customers, consumers, suppliers and employees," she said.

"Businesses that make these connections and adapt to climate change with community needs in mind will gain a competitive edge."

Yet, 'Few Companies' Adapting

In a published on June 28, the indicated that extreme weather events — such as recent flooding in Tennessee and droughts in the U.S. Southwest — are on the rise as atmospheric greenhouse gases increase.

"It is impossible to predict where or when extreme events will occur, but a large body of scientific evidence makes it clear that the risk of such events has increased and should be expected to continue to increase as the climate warms," the paper cautioned.

"These events provide important clues to ... actions we can take today to make us more resilient to the growing risks of more frequent extreme weather events."

Yet Heather Coleman, a senior policy adviser with in Boston, said at the conference that "few companies are developing strategic responses to climate change."

Oxfam, the and the (UNEP) recently surveyed more than 70 businesses in the UN-sponsored Caring for Climate initiative, a 400-company compact committed to advancing climate action.

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