Climate change risks: Urgent need for preparedness

According to the International SOS Risk Outlook 2024 report, there is a growing awareness among respondents regarding the significant ramifications of climate-related phenomena on various aspects of operations and employee wellbeing. This is not a surprise for many, as 72% of respondents believe that extreme weather events will have a significant impact on their business or people in 2024, underscoring the tangible impact of environmental shifts expected on business operations.

The International SOS Risk Outlook 2024 report also outlines the diverse consequences for the workforce, including increased health risks such as heat-related illnesses and associated decreased productivity. Extreme weather events also have the potential to lead to disruptions in global supply chains. Beyond the physical implications, mental health and absenteeism are also key factors, as climate anxiety grips people across the world.

  • 48% of respondents reported that climate change anxiety is an issue that they have encountered among their workforces.
  • 42% of respondents think that their organization is not necessarily fully prepared to respond to / mitigate disruptions caused by climate activism.
  • 41% of respondents think that their organization is not necessarily fully prepared to respond to / mitigate environmental threats.
  • 26% of respondents have already reported operational disruption attributed to climate change.
A heat wave. Photo credit: Phira Phonruewiangphing

Commenting on the medical outlook, Dr Chan Yanjun, Medical Director at International SOS, comments: “We are witnessing storms, wildfires and monsoons increasing in severity in the past years. Extreme weather events, such as the first ever named heatwave “Cerberus” hitting Europe, may become commonplace. From worsening air quality and the spread of emerging diseases to the mental health toll of natural disasters and climate anxiety, we are seeing a concerning trend. 

“In fact, air pollution is the leading environmental cause of illness and premature death. The changing climate patterns are also leading to the emergence and spread of vector-borne diseases in previously unaffected areas. 

“Furthermore, climate change events are also negatively affecting individuals’ mental health. This could be an immediate consequence from experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder due to a natural disaster, or from the constant exposure to the global catastrophic events, causing a longer-term climate anxiety and depression amongst individuals.

“At International SOS, we saw a significant increase in the number of climate-related alerts we issued last year. Throughout January – November 2023, we saw a fourfold increase in climate related alerts issued to our clients, with 80% more medical climate-related alerts compared to the previous year. This surge underscores the critical need for organizations to understand the complex interplay between climate change and health risks.”

Extreme heat. Photo credit: RomoloTavani

Noriko Takasaki, Security Director, Assistance – Asia, at International SOS, thinks that organizations should take heed from the losses that can be incurred by extreme weather events, investing in climate preparedness can help ensure a business weathers a storm. 

“Climate change is of course a key environmental concern, but importantly, also a critical factor intensifying risks for individuals and companies. Although until recently, climate change has rarely been seen as the singular driver of conflict or security issues, the impacts of climate change considerably exacerbate existing tensions, vulnerabilities and operational challenges. The cascading impacts of climate change can be the spark that ignites civil unrest, violence and security issues at high level, as well as amplifies existing political and socio-economic insecurities.

“It is more important than ever for organizations monitor these events, prioritize climate resilience and incorporate proactive measures into their operational frameworks.” 

Top five practical measures for organizations to mitigate climate change risks 

  • Develop a comprehensive climate risk management plan: strategically map climate change impacts on operations to inform mitigation strategies and investments effectively.
  • Engage employees across the organization: foster collaboration among HR, risk managers, and the C-suite to harness diverse expertise in combating climate-related risks.
  • Enhance security protocols and prioritize medical preparedness: establish a system to identify, assess, and control health and security risks related to climate change. Understand the capacity of local healthcare facilities and ensure access to medical care during disruptions.
  • Provide workforce with adequate emotional support solutions: implement programs to address the mental health impacts of climate change on employees, such as anxiety, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Leverage external expertise and data: harness the insights and support of third-party experts to conduct a climate vulnerability risk assessment and learn best practice to navigate the complexities of climate risk management effectively.

Top photo credit: iStock/ coffeekai

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