How governments are addressing climate change
Faced with the adverse effects of climate change, governments around the world are prioritizing climate resilience by investing in infrastructure, societal resilience, and data analytics to predict and prepare for future disruptions.
The drought-fueled bushfires that ravaged much of southern Australia in 2019 and 2020 not only darkened skies and destroyed wildlife, they also damaged critical energy infrastructure, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power during the disaster. Months later, a different kind of weather event on the other side of the world left another government unable to provide electricity to its citizens: In February 2021, unusually cold temperatures in Texas froze natural gas wells, wind turbines, and coal piles, causing the state’s power grid to collapse and leaving millions to face harsh conditions without power.
As extreme weather exacerbated by climate change continues to disrupt the delivery of water, power, and other services, government agencies around the world are prioritizing climate resilience—the ability to respond, recover, and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.
Agencies are institutionalizing climate resiliency by linking climate action to their missions, future-proofing critical infrastructure, embedding environmental justice in their programs, collaborating with public and private partners to unlock collective action, and enhancing their data analytics capabilities to prepare for future climate disruptions.
- Lessons learned from the COVID-19 response have underscored the need for greater resilience in the face of disruption, whether it comes from climate, public health, or other causes.
- The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events has instilled a sense of urgency within the public sector.
- Frequent disruptions to operations, supply chains, and human lives are compelling broader climate action.
- The cost of inaction is too high from an economic, social, and continuity of operations perspective.
- Investments in climate adaptation can create jobs and spur significant economic growth.
Trend in action
A climate-resilient agency has a greater ability to pursue its mission in the face of climate-related disruptions and to protect individuals and communities from the adverse effects of climate change.
Consider the mobility sector. Disruptions to the transportation network during extreme weather events not only affect the movement of goods and people but also limit access to employment and critical services such as health care. To mitigate future disruptions, Great Britain’s national railway manager, Network Rail, is working to improve its climate resilience. In response to projections of increased rain and flooding over time, Network Rail has implemented an integrated draining management policy and is investing in drainage systems along key routes to protect the infrastructure from flooding and to minimize climate-related disruptions to passenger transport.
Linking climate to the mission
Climate change is increasingly shaping agency missions at all levels—central, regional, and local. In the coming decades, it could significantly alter the operational landscape and may compel some agencies to rethink entire programs. Government entities must understand and embrace how climate change affects their missions—and act in a way that both aligns with and advances their objectives.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has linked climate resilience to its mission, noting that temperature extremes, rises in sea levels, and extreme weather events increasingly damage military installations, impair military capabilities, create harsher operational conditions, and fuel global instability and conflict. Acknowledging climate change as an existential threat to national security, the DoD has released a climate adaptation plan to future-proof military installations, build a climate-ready force, secure supply chains against extreme weather events, and inculcate climate-informed decision-making.
Investing in societal resilience
Governments are also increasingly investing in resilient infrastructure, enhancing the capacity of the community to withstand extreme weather events, and ensuring that disadvantaged communities aren’t left to face climate-related risks on their own. The cost of waiting can be extreme; note the US$32 billion cost that Indonesia is expected to incur to move its capital away from Jakarta, one of the world’s fastest-sinking cities.
In September 2021, Deloitte’s State of the Consumer Tracker surveyed 23,000 people across 23 countries. Nearly half of respondents had directly experienced at least one climate event in the past six months.
Data analysis will play a key role in understanding and mitigating these risks. To aid decision-making, in 2021, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency introduced the National Risk Index, a web-based tool that maps the nation’s vulnerability to 18 different risk factors at the county and census tract levels. The tool is designed to help agencies and communities direct their resources and actions where they’re needed most.
Government investment in large infrastructure projects to build resilience against climate change’s disruptive effects is most obvious in coastal cities, which face the greatest risk from rising sea levels and extreme weather. Across the world, these cities are turning to hard engineering solutions such as sea walls or surge barriers; Venice (Italy), one of the world’s most flood-prone cities, has built a system of flood barriers—Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (MOSE)—to protect against rising sea levels and high tides.
To build truly resilient societies, however, such investments must protect everyone, including those with few resources to deal with failing power or water systems. Adopting an equity lens can help governments evaluate not only the environmental impact of their actions but the broader social and economic outcomes. One example of this approach is the US Federal Justice40 initiative, which aims to address historic underinvestment by delivering “40% of the overall benefits from relevant federal climate investments to disadvantaged communities.”
In Deloitte’s September 2021 State of the Consumer Tracker, two-thirds of respondents want their national governments to do more to fight climate change.
Building data-driven anticipatory capabilities
Resilience begins with information—understanding and weighing specific climate threats and their likelihood, potential impact, and community vulnerability to those threats. Governments need this level of specificity to take effective and meaningful action while minimizing waste. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for example, recently launched an interactive map providing county-level information on various locations’ susceptibility to catastrophic climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves. It is intended to help state and local agencies develop action plans.
Data analytics tools can help agencies anticipate forces and events that could complicate or even alter their missions. Governments are collaborating with industry and academia to add artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to their arsenal, using them to parse vast troves of weather data to identify patterns and plan mitigation strategies. The UK Meteorological Office is currently partnering with Google to see how AI might enhance its ability to predict the weather.
As agencies draft ambitious climate resilience plans, a few steps can help them achieve long-term success:
- Install climate leadership. Leadership is key to any large-scale transformation. Agencies should create positions such as chief climate officer or chief sustainability officer to lead resilience efforts and coordinate intra- and intergovernmental action.
- Create a climate-ready workforce. Agencywide climate education can raise awareness among the workforce about the climate crisis and climate resilience strategies.
- Build public-private climate innovation ecosystems. Groundbreaking technological innovation is key to climate-change resilience. Governments should build and nurture collaborative public-private ecosystems to take advantage of shared knowledge and resources while ensuring that the broader community supports their actions.
- Link climate action to economic opportunities. Climate action has the potential to be the next big economic opportunity. Agencies should encourage private-sector participation by using their authority to set favorable regulations, create new standards, and make seed investments. Linking climate action to economic opportunities can make the private sector a willing participant in the low-carbon future. According to one Deloitte estimate, for instance, climate action could add AUD$680 billion to the Australian economy and create more than 250,000 jobs across its regions and industries by 2070, while inaction could curtail GDP by AUD$3.4 trillion and result in 880,000 job losses in the same period.
(Courtesy Deloitte. By Bruce Chew, United States. Irena Pichola, Poland. Richard Longstaff, United States. Tiffany Fishman, United States and Hiroshi Hamasaki, Japan)