A new framework

4th October 2019

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Jamie Mcpherson

Nick Blyth, John Dora and Lesley Wilson explain why it's so important for organisations to create adaptation plans – and introduce the new ISO 14090: Adaptation to climate change standard

As professionals, developing an organisational response to climate impacts can be a challenge. In 2013, IEMA members helped to develop guidance on how this business case can be made, with further guidance last year on climate action integration into an EMS/ISO 14001. This year, the British Standards Institution (BSI) is initiating the launch of an international standard that focuses on climate change adaptation, providing a framework through principles, requirements and guidelines.

Climate change is already starting to impact our way of life and economy. Supply chains (especially long ones) become vulnerable to weather events or changes in local temperatures or sea levels, which affect transportation or the supply of raw materials.

In the UK, we will experience periods with too much or too little water, increased average and extreme temperatures, and sea level rise. Health, wellbeing and high temperature issues will pose threats to productivity, and there is a risk of shortages in the water supply for public, agriculture, energy generation and industry uses, as well as impacts on freshwater ecology. In the UK, many risks and some opportunities are fully explored in the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 evidence report.

Creating an adaptation plan

David Style, senior analyst on the Committee on Climate Change, has said: “It is critical that organisations consider the physical risks from climate change, as well as the opportunities in adapting to it. The climate is changing, and organisations that plan for this will increase their chances of future success, while those that do not risk being caught out.“ Organisations need to look at their operations and identify climate risks that might affect them both now and in the future. They need to ask themselves: 'what's critical?'; 'over what timescales?'; 'what's likely to be affected by climate change?'; 'what information do I have about vulnerability?'; 'what information do I need about future climate hazards?'; 'how well are our decision-makers equipped to make good long-term decisions?'; and perhaps most importantly, 'who has responsibility for all this?'

Organisational impacts can be financial, physical, regulatory or reputational (how would it look if you couldn't deliver the service or goods that you've promised?). Through carrying out a review across the entire business, risks and vulnerabilities can be identified; these can then be addressed in an adaptation plan.

“The new standard provides a high-level framework, guiding the user through key stages in the development of an adaptation plan“

A good adaptation plan can make a big difference to operations, delivery and efficiency. An understanding of climate risk supports good decision-making around future objectives. The adaptation plan can include understanding the knowledge and experience contained within the organisation, considering stakeholders, identifying uncertainties, understanding impacts, creating actions and priorities, and harmonising with policies and objectives.

The plan can help to identify opportunities from climate adaptation, as well as risks. These might be improved suppliers, a new product, or a change in strategic direction for a business as it identifies a new market need.

ISO 14090

ISO 14090 was drafted by an international team of experts, convened by the UK's John Dora, FIEMA. At BSI, a team of experts from the UK's industry and government wrote comments on each draft. Originating in the UK and from BSI, the standard is in part a response to the need for climate actions called for in the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 13.

The new standard offers guidelines on how to bring climate adaptation activities into the mainstream, and can help organisations to identify, understand and reduce climate risk – particularly over long time periods. It provides a high level framework, guiding the user through key stages in the development of an adaptation plan.

The framework allows an organisation to address adaptation to climate change challenges at any stage of the adaptation process – whether it has a mature plan or has just started its adaptation journey. The process laid out is iterative in nature, and promotes learning and improvement to be fed into present and future decision-making.

It is essential that an adaptation plan is adopted by leadership, and that its objectives and processes are integrated into the objectives and processes of the organisation. This is a requirement in ISO 14090.

Users of ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems and ISO 55000 Asset Management will recognise many of the systemic organisational concepts used in ISO 14090, and will be able to use the standard to supplement their existing approaches to risk management and integrate climate change adaptation. ISO 14090 also provides assurance to investors, insurers and customers that the organisation is aware of, and acting on, climate risks.

“Multilateral development banks are interested in the potential of standards such as ISO 14090 for scaling up action on climate resilience across markets,“ says BSI committee member Sarah Duff, an associate in climate resilient investments at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. “Applying this framework approach in organisations ensures that the topic is incorporated into business plans and operations while allowing for tailored approaches in different sectors.“

What next?

ISO 14090 is the first in a family of ISO adaptation standards, laying the foundations for subsequent standards that will be synergistic, supportive and harmonised. These will include ISO TS 14092 Adaptation to climate change – Requirements and guidance for local governments and communities, due to be published in in the fourth quarter of 2019, and ISO 14091 Adaptation to climate change – Vulnerability, impacts and risk assessment, due to be published in the first quarter of 2020.

Within the UK, and following a joint workshop with IEMA, BSI and Defra, BSI is now writing 'Decision-making for climate change: Adaptation pathways', a concept that is referred to in ISO 14090 and which would fill a gap in detailed guidance where ISO 14090 points the direction.

Climate change threats have never been so immediate, and organisations face huge challenges to manage its impacts and ensure business continuity. By using tools such as ISO 14090 and the IEMA guide, organisations can enhance their business resilience now and into the future. ISO 14090 is now available at a discount for IEMA members.

IEMA is continuing to work with BSI and ISO to develop further work in this area. IEMA policy lead Nick Blyth is vice-chair of ISO Task Force 7 on Climate Change Coordination, and is leading on new work on carbon neutrality at ISO.

Further information

Read the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 evidence report at bit.ly/2uMriQR

IEMA members can access BSI materials at a discount at www.iema.net/bsi-products

Nick Blyth is IEMA policy and engagement lead – [email protected] John Dora, FIEMA is an international adaptation consultant and convenor of ISO 14090 Lesley Wilson is lead standards development manager in sustainability at BSI

Photo Credit | Alamy

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