Dr. Kathy Freas, Vice President, Global Water Business Group at CH2M Hill, has grappled with the issues of a changing climate throughout her career. After decades of failure by leaders around the world to address the consequences of a changing planet, she welcomes the actions made by businesses and organizations such as GAIN to strengthen the resilience of local communities.
I am very encouraged by the convergence in the perspectives beginning to take shape around adaptation. Going forward, I think three things are important to keep in mind:
First, adaptation is about risk management. Climate change is one more risk we have to manage and incorporate into the way we do business.
Second, governments will not provide full solutions for us. We have to take local action; we have to come together; and we have to put our heads together across our current institutional and geographic barriers in order to implement solutions.
Finally, from my perspective, adaptation comes down to three issues: 1) water 2) water 3) water
Through using metrics that GAIN has developed and continues to refine, and through the ability to bring people together this organization is a fundamental catalyst.
We all know climate change primarily affects the water cycle — most notably through the increase of extreme events both through changing precipitation and sea level rise and also through uncertainty and how we manage that uncertainty as part of the risk we face in our day-to-day business and our day-to-day lives.
This is not a new issue certainly. I’ve had the incredible good fortune of being in the first wave of “first responders” conducting postdoctoral research 25 years ago with Paul Ehrlich and the late Steve Schneider at Stanford University. Then, we focused on the impact of climate change on ecosystems and the services ecosystems provide to us. As a student at that time, I thought everyone would realize what a problem the world was facing and would have it figured out. Here we are 25 years later still trying to figure out how to go forward.
But I am encouraged because we are beginning to do more than talk and GAIN is certainly a significant part of this progress, most notably, in bringing together the private sector in promoting solutions.
Climate change offers us an opportunity to do things differently.
We are now in the second wave of “first responders.” These are those entities and people who have been directly impacted already — people on coasts, agencies and municipalities that must manage storm surges, seal level rise and droughts.
Water managers are another group now on the frontline managing climate change solutions.
Water managers have tried to send a message to enhance the political will in the U.S. CH2M Hill has worked with The National Association of Clean Water Agencies and other partners to develop an estimate for Congress to explain the cost of maintaining the current level of water and sanitation services for the U.S. for the next 40 years — the estimate was between half-a-trillion and a trillion U.S. dollars just for maintaining infrastructure services.
In the absence of political will, these managers are tackling local and regional challenges. At CH2M Hill, we are working with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to tackle wastewater and sea level rise.
At the regional level, we are working with the seven western U.S. states that take water from the Colorado River (along with engineering firm Black & Veatch, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the major municipalities). We are examining the impacts of climate change on municipal areas, agriculture, energy, ecosystems and recreation — all of which are touched by climate change.
Climate change offers us an opportunity to do things differently. We can seek to optimize the way we respond to our aging infrastructure, agricultural systems, supply chains and national security challenges in a way that works across boundaries. We are not only now talking amongst ourselves and bringing a variety of business, government and community perspectives to the table, but are converging our actions; and GAIN is a primary mover, pushing us in that direction.
Through using metrics that GAIN has developed and continues to refine and through the ability to bring people together, this organization is a fundamental catalyst. It should be considered an early success and an early win for all involved in this community.