After one year of blogging on the “Climate Adaptation Exchange”, Joyce Coffee, Edelman CSR & Sustainability Vice President, has covered a wide range of topics in adaptation from private sector investment and CSR to geoengineering, green buildings and GAIN, the Global Adaptation Institute.
At Edelman, Joyce provides strategic sustainability counsel to Midwest companies. Previously, she directed the Chicago Climate Action Plan and managed environmental codes and water and air resources in the City of Chicago Department of Environment and Sustainability. She has worked as an urban environmental consultant with the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s U.S.-Asia Environmental Partnership and more.
Q: Why did you choose climate adaptation as the subject of your blog?
Coffee: “One of the reasons I write on climate adaptation is that I believe people exposed to information about adaptation will be more concerned about climate change risks.”
Q: Where did the name Climate Adaptation Exchange stem from?
Coffee: “I think climate adaptation broadens the tent of communities that are willing to talk about climate action, and will thus bring some around to not only adapt, but also - when confronted with adaptation - to contemplate reducing excessive greenhouse gas emissions.”
Q: Have you noticed any societal shifts in talking about adaptation?
Coffee: “What I’ve observed most recently is that there have been many more thought leaders speaking about climate change as it relates to extreme weather events. My hope is that these same leaders will be able to convince others about the importance of action to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change itself. I’ve also noted that adaptation can be written about in terms of both local problems and local actions and has not only scientific, but also community, political and ideological frames. Here, it differs from greenhouse gas mitigation and may have more traction with the reader.”
Calvert Investments, CERES and Oxfam have just released a splendid guide for companies and investors dealing with disclosure and management of climate impacts entitled “Physical Risks from Climate Change.”
I had the pleasure of speaking recently on a panel with Matthew Alsted, Calvert’s vice president of Channel Marketing and Brand Strategy at the LOHAS Forum 2012. He noted that, 50 years ago, individual households owned an estimated two-thirds to three- quarters of publicly traded stocks (U.S.) whereas institutional investors held the balance. Today that ratio has flipped. This shift is remarkable and reminds me how much we must rely on the good minds at places such as Fidelity and Vanguard (I invest in both mutual fund houses) to encourage corporations to make good climate adaptation decisions.
The guide includes sets of key questions for different sectors that should be required reading for fund managers. They, in particular, should study them since passing along risk decisions to companies isn’t sufficient anymore, in my opinion. I believe mutual fund investors have an important role in magnifying the opportunities and minimizing the risks of climate change. As they have with corporate-governance issues, such as favoring the splitting of the chairman and CEO roles, perhaps financial houses could serve as part of the market solution to climate change by expecting responsible climate-risk avoidance.
Why are investors important? Because from their questioning and probing, they help make climate adaptation material to companies. The CERES/Calvert/Oxfam report makes clear that information related to long-term climate risks aren’t mandatory disclosures since these long-term risks aren’t deemed material to investors interested in the short term. Regrettably, as the Colorado fires illustrate, the increase in adverse climate impacts will have a material effect on companies’ assets and operations.
ISC Corporate Services “Disclosing Climate Risks: How 100 Companies are Responding to New SEC Guidelines” indicates that investors concerned about physical climate risk have actively pursued disclosure from the companies in which they invest and are using tools that track and evaluate companies’ climate-risk disclosures.
That’s encouraging! I’ll be looking for ways to help more companies do the same.