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A CFO’s take on climate and risk management

There is an urgent need to integrate resiliency into core business strategy if businesses want to continue to thrive — or even remain operational.

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Just a couple of months into 2020, the world was amid significant discussion about the core purpose of businesses, led by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink calling for corporate America to take control of its carbon footprint and major companies, including Microsoft and Delta, making ambitious zero-carbon pledges.

When COVID-19 arrived, we saw the impact that global crises have overnight, teaching the corporate sphere valuable lessons about risk mitigation. Economic estimates predict that the pandemic will decrease global GDP by 3 percent in 2020, and at our current pace, climate change is estimated to decrease the global GDP by anywhere from 2.5 percent to 7.5 percent by 2050.

While climate risk remains an often overlooked or undervalued factor in risk management programs, there is an urgent need to integrate resiliency into core business strategy if businesses want to continue to thrive — or even remain operational.

There is an urgent need to integrate resiliency into core business strategy if businesses want to continue to thrive — or even remain operational.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of prioritizing resilience by exposing the fragility of global supply chains and dysfunctional systems across businesses and forcing them to change the way they plan and operate to factor in large-scale crises. Hospitals, for example, felt the disastrous impact of vulnerable supply chains, and needed to plan for alternative sources of personal protective equipment to keep their medical workers and staff safe.

These learnings must be applied to similar risk brought about by climate change — businesses need to prepare for the impact of devastating weather events on supply chains and infrastructure they rely on to remain safe and operational.

As key members of the financial team, risk managers need to grasp the implications of sustainability across the organization, from strategic risks posed by new regulations to operational risks posed by extreme weather and financial risks with regards to taxes and insurance. As we continue to fight climate change, understanding the strategic, operational and financial risks — and the tools available to assess and plan for them — will help finance teams take a more forward-facing approach to risk management and avoid repeating past mistakes.

Strategic risk factors

Four key risk factors are associated with strategic risk and sustainability: economic changes; corporate responsibility; regulatory risk; and reputational risk.

From an economic standpoint, there have been major shifts brought about by decarbonization and diversifying portfolios — consider the rapid decline of the coal industry, for example. In addition, companies are being held more accountable for their impact on the environment, with pressure coming from all sides, including customers, investors, competitors and regulators.

Increased regulation and legal requirements around resource management and carbon reduction, as well as required carbon reporting, can result in major fines if not complied with.

Finally, reputational risk, while hard to quantify, can be enormous, particularly in today’s political climate and as both internal and external stakeholders become more educated on the action against climate change.

Operational risk factors

Sustainability also can affect how businesses approach operations, such as supply-chain optimization, procurement strategies, data privacy and security. For instance, the finance team can make more informed decisions around power purchase agreements, onsite and offsite renewable energy, decentralization and microgrids, energy independence and cost savings opportunities when factoring climate risk into the overall procurement strategy.

There are also more direct operational risks to consider as a result of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, which continue to increase in both frequency and intensity. Businesses must account for the possibility of outages, damages and closures, all of which can threaten the ability to protect employees, assets and data centers (which can pose new risks in terms of data privacy and leaks) and, ultimately, to keep the business operational.

Financial risk factors

Climate change poses significant financial risks to an organization as sustainability policies and corporate initiatives can affect taxes, insurance, resource management, energy sourcing, investor support and even intangible assets such as goodwill — for instance, the impalpable value that customers and investors place on a company’s ability to reduce its footprint. From changes in insurance premiums and coverage to identifying financial benefits of electrification, there are almost countless financial risks and opportunities for the financial team to assess.

Sustainability planning also opens the door to integrating new technologies to save money, such as alternative energy vehicles, which bring financial benefits all their own.

Integrating climate risk strategy

Integrating climate risk into new or existing risk management programs can seem daunting, but the financial team can leverage strategic assessments to make the process simpler. For instance, vulnerability assessments allow businesses to understand where climate change is most likely to affect them. Scenario assessments can provide a forward-looking view of the potential impact, so finance teams can plan ahead to mitigate future developments.

The world’s current state is illuminating the need for resilience to global events we may not be able to foresee or control. With climate change being the next undeniable threat, it’s on the shoulders of the financial team to ensure that companies are adequately prepared for different climate events to improve their resilience and mitigate the associated risks.

The strategic planning used now to prepare for these issues may encourage innovation and new methods of operating that not only benefit the bottom line but also prepare a business for when unexpected events do occur. This also offers opportunity to strategically prepare and recover from events in a way that helps reduce climate change and improve the environment on a global scale.

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