By Bram Miller, Technical Director, and Sarah Winne, Principal Consultant in Ramboll’s Environment & Health team
The British people have a reputation for talking about the weather, but this year we’ve had even more to talk about than usual. Only half way through, and 2018 has already been a year of extreme weather. We are in the midst of a prolonged spell of very hot weather, which is on the back of a long dry spell. This follows some of the heaviest snowfalls in many years, much later in the year than we would expect. The costs that events like these have on businesses is clear – economic analysts estimate that this winter’s ‘beast from the east’ was likely the most costly weather event since 2010.
It is therefore important that those managing businesses do more than just talk about the weather, because extreme weather can pose real risks. Hot weather can be a problem for the welfare and safety of staff and customers, whilst heavy rainfall can cause flooding, with clear dangers to people and property. Long periods without rain can lead to drought, with implications for any businesses involved with or reliant upon agriculture, a point that also illustrates the risks posed to businesses with supply chains overseas. A cold snap in southern Europe for example led to a shortage of vegetables in early 2017, resulting in significant spikes in their costs, whilst there are currently concerns about how hot and dry conditions this year are impacting on UK lettuce production.
There is a clear need to think about the current weather, whilst considering the fact that the climate is changing. For example, in the UK we are already experiencing hotter drier summers, and more intense rainfall throughout the year, and these trends are predicted to carry on. Other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa are recording very significant changes in their climate, with reliable seasons a thing of the past.
Businesses can take simple steps to understand the risks they face from both current and future climate and weather events. Advice is available from sources such as the UK Climate Projections website and The Met Office website to help identify the risks and establish the options to help manage them. Worryingly, however, some schemes, such as the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready have been victims to restricted public funding.
It is also worth noting that for some businesses extreme weather and climate change also present an opportunity. For example, warmer weather brings more opportunities for outdoor leisure activities and a potential to shift from winter to summer-oriented products. There are also opportunities for businesses that want to be viewed as early movers on climate change – businesses that improve their climate resilience and prepare for extreme weather events in advance could have a competitive advantage over others.
For those that want to take the next step to understanding the risks that climate change and weather events pose to their business, getting professionals on board to give specific expert advice can bring major benefits. This could range from help developing a ‘bad weather’ policy to plan for disruptions to your business, to a full assessment of the risks that current and future climate could pose to your business.
Whatever your attitude to climate change, the weather the UK has experienced this year clearly shows that this small island does not always live up to its rainy reputation. The case for preparing for more extreme weather is becoming increasingly convincing.