Smruti Govan, Associate, Partnership Development and Research, BSR

The new U.S. National Climate Assessment, which highlighted how issues like extreme weather are already affecting Americans, described climate change as moving “from the corners of the Earth into the American backyard.” The assessment makes clear that climate risks demand a renewed focus on resilience. 

At a recent BSR event in New York, guests and panelists—including John Buckley, managing director of corporate responsibility at BNY Mellon; Sally R.K. Fisk, senior corporate counsel of the environmental law group at Pfizer, Inc.; Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager at Refugees International; and Eric Roston, sustainability editor of Bloomberg.com—discussed how business can build this resilience by understanding climate risks, addressing human challenges, and pursuing ambitious and practical approaches to climate change. The panel built on the launch of BSR’s new climate strategy last month.

The event highlighted three themes for business action on climate change:
 

  1. Climate risk is real and substantial: Climate change poses operational, reputational, financial, regulatory, and other risks to businesses. And climate impacts on clients and suppliers compound these issues. Buckley noted that Hurricane Sandy directly affected BNY Mellon’s operations: The company had to close three buildings in lower Manhattan for weeks due to disruptions in public transit and utilities and concerns about employees’ safety.
  2. Human challenges are critical: BSR Partnership Development and Research Director Edward Cameron noted that more than 90 percent of the victims of the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women—which underscores the importance of investing in women as part of resilience efforts. Thomas, who shared a video of communities in Burkina Faso that are struggling with starvation due to reduced crop production and water supply, emphasized the need to communicate about climate change as a social issue. Fisk said this will help the climate action community reach new audiences. “Different arguments will resonate in different ways,” she said.  Participants noted that business has an opportunity to explore the human impacts of climate change by engaging with health and international development professionals.
  3. Think big and break the problem into small parts: Ambitious goals coupled with manageable steps will lead to change at the systemic level. Buckley said BNY Mellon is taking this approach and has reduced global emissions by 34 percent “by doing a lot of little things.” The panel also underscored the need for business to develop goals designed to maximize impact within the business cycle. “It is difficult for business to think about 2050,” said Fisk. “Climate action needs to be broken down into short-term goals.” BSR’s new climate strategy—which CDP Executive Director Nigel Topping described as “focusing on ambition and grounding it in pragmatism” also takes this approach.

For a deeper discussion on business action on climate, join us at BSR’s Spring Forum 2014, “Climate Action: The Urgency of Business Leadership,” June 11-12 in Paris.