In perfect alignment with the ISO 14090: Adaptation to climate change standard

28th May 2021

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Anya Ledwith and John Dora look at the new white paper covering the ISO 14090: Adaptation to climate change standard

In the run-up to COP26, it seems the wider world is finally taking notice of the climate emergency. Climate change is already affecting us through different weather patterns, more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, flooding, storm surges, drought and erosion. We are seeing biodiversity loss, poor air quality, employee health and safety issues, and disruptions to operations and value chains. This is triggering changes in the way people vote, regulate, live and do business.

Countries, businesses, organisations and individual consumers are committing to net-zero targets to help them manage their carbon impact, set reduction goals and offset unavoidable emissions. While the focus of these plans is to reduce carbon emissions, it is also important that organisations consider climate change adaptation.

Experts from around the world have collaborated to develop an international standard on the subject and, in 2019, published ISO 14090: Adaptation to climate change – Principles, requirements and guidelines. The standard aims to help organisations assess climate change impacts and put plans in place for effective adaptation. It helps them to identify and manage risks, as well as seize any opportunities that climate change may bring.

Given that climate change will continue over a long period, ISO 14090 considers adaptation efforts in the short, medium and long term. Organisations need to assess the timescales of potential adaptation actions, as well as their long-term consequences. The standard refers to indicators that help measure how climate change is affecting an organisation, and how the organisation itself is evolving to meet those challenges.

White paper

How does an organisation embed climate adaptation into its processes? A good place to start will be its environmental management system (EMS). This provides a framework for identifying and managing environmental aspects, considering not only the organisation’s own impacts, but also how the external environment affects it. Climate change issues are already key in many EMSs.

ISO 14001 is the most widely used standard for EMSs, with more than 300,000 certificates issued worldwide. It makes sense, therefore, to align the two standards. Indeed, ISO 14090 has been written in a way that should make it fairly easy for ISO 14001 users to adopt.

“ISO 14090 has been written in a way that should make it relatively easy for users of ISO 14001 to adopt”

To help users get started, ISO has recently published a white paper showing the alignments between the two standards. Using this, ISO hopes that users of ISO 14001 can accelerate their adaptation to climate change and build resilience. It goes through the key clauses of ISO 14001, showing how ISO 14090 supports them and provides further assistance, all laid out in a helpful table. For example, ISO 14001 Clause 6: Planning requires an organisation to identify risks and opportunities, aspects, compliance obligations and so on, and then establish objectives and plans to achieve them.

The white paper shows the relevant ISO 14090 clauses, as follows:

  • Clause 6: Assessing climate change impacts including opportunities – notes a requirement to assess the organisation’s climate change impacts and its capacity to adapt to these impacts.
  • Clause 7: Adaptation planning and Clause 8.2: Implementation plan require the organisation to establish climate adaptation priorities, identify adaptation actions, develop an implementation plan, and incorporate adaptation into its policies, strategies and plans.

ISO 14090 provides extensive guidance on impact assessment methods, plus identifying and evaluating potential actions (their suitability and potential impact) and developing the content and objectives of the adaptation plan. It notes how actions may be soft measures that improve capacity to adapt (for example, embedding climate change into policies and operational procedures, training and awareness raising), or hard measures (such as infrastructure/building design or flood protection zones).

Climate adaptation is clearly relevant in more areas of EMSs than this, as understanding climate impacts is not just for those who implement climate actions. Organisational decisions are made based on risks and opportunities, so understanding resilience is useful across the value chain, such as in purchasing, investment and insurance.

ISO 14090 in use

We have worked with several organisations that see benefits in using ISO 14090. Network Rail takes its responsibilities seriously and understands how ISO 14090 is relevant to its preparations to address climate impacts. It has published Weather Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation Plans for all its routes, outlining climate hazards, vulnerability assessments and measures to respond to these.

The National Trust is another good example; it is actively using ISO 14090 for its adaptation and resilience building to address current and future climate impacts. ISO 14001 is already part of the Trust’s ‘toolkit’, so the linkages featured in the white paper give added strength and credibility to its governance arrangements to address longer-term climate changes.

The diversity of interest across sectors is further demonstrated in Canada by a government department that is keen to promote adaptation and is learning more about how ISO 14090 could be used throughout its diverse organisation.

“ISO 14090 aims to help organisations assess climate change impacts and put plans in place for effective adaptation”

Further guidance

The ISO 14090 – 14001 white paper is available to download for free from the ISO website at

In 2018, IEMA produced guidance in its publication Driving Climate Actions through Environmental Management Systems ( This goes through ISO 14001 clause by clause, showing how each contributes to climate mitigation and adaptation.

ISO 14090 is the first of a series of standards on climate adaptation, including ISO 14091 on impacts and risk assessment, and ISO 14092 on adaptation planning for local governments and communities. Each of these publications is a useful resource for any sustainability professional responsible for embedding climate change mitigation and adaptation into their organisation.

Anya Ledwith, FIEMA is founder of Eshcon Ltd and a member of the ISO and BSI committees on Environmental Management System standards and managing greenhouse gases.

Professor John Dora is director of Climate Sense and a visiting professor at the University of Surrey. He is a member of the ISO and BSI committees on environmental management system standards and managing greenhouse gases, chairing the groups that drafted ISO 14090 and wrote the white paper.

Image credit: iStock


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