Three Potential Gaps in the Typical Assessment of Social and Environmental Stressors

Investors are expressing an increased interest in understanding the resilience of property and infrastructure assets and owners.  The GRESB Resilience Module, launched across GRESB assessments this year, provides an exceptional vehicle for investors to evaluate the capacity of organizations to manage emerging social and environmental shocks and stressors.  For many diverse, well-capitalized companies with mature risk management procedures, the greatest danger to resilience is the “we’ve got this under control” mentality.  Regardless of size, sector or geography, the most common risk to an organization is a sense of overconfidence in its resiliency. This overconfidence may be a result of three common failings in the typical assessment of climatological, hydrological and meteorological threats:
1. Only looking at long-term risk. Perhaps the most common source of overconfidence is the tendency of risk assessments to focus on out years, like 2050, 2070 or 2100, largely due to an increased ability to capture impacts via models. Applying even the most moderate discount rates to such time horizons yields an impact on current costs/revenues of virtually zero. Further, these very long time horizons give comfort to companies and fund perspectives that they can easily “trade around” these risks. It is important to recognize that, while much harder to quantify, we are already experiencing changes in the probability distribution of impending risks. The tails that capture severe events anticipated to provide substantial and immediate stress are growing fatter by the day (see accompanying graphic). Relatedly, one or several of these severe events (e.g., three Category 4 hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. in the same hurricane season for the first time in history) can instantly alter the market value and insurability of assets, before risk managers can reorder portfolios. [/one-half-first]
2. Failure to recognize the importance of outside-the-fence infrastructure. Often a facility will be robust, with many resiliency measures including backup generation and ample fuel storage. However, it is rare that a facility is not dependent on some public infrastructure, such as electric transmission and distribution lines, substations, water distribution lines, roads, bridges, and tunnels. In a severe hazard event, a facility may be functional, but without staff access to the facility, or fuel deliveries, operations are likely to halt. It is remarkable how rarely commercial entities have knowledge of and collaborate with public infrastructure entities on their resiliency programs.
3. Lack of relevant quality data. Due to the difficulty of obtaining, understanding and using climate data, organizations often make-do with limited data and methodologies. Forecasting data are likely to be sourced from global, national or regional models.  Even when significantly downscaled, stressor data are often captured at a resolution no better than a six kilometer by six kilometer grid.  While this resolution is sufficient for focusing on areas of potential risk, it is insufficient to complete a true vulnerability assessment for an individual facility. A bottom up approach may be required to take into account the facility’s unique topography, elevations, locations of mechanicals and other critical equipment as well as existing resiliency measures such as backup electric generation and fuel storage.
The GRESB Resilience Module provides a powerful catalyst for companies to evaluate and disclose their capacity to manage emerging social and environmental risk factors. As an ongoing work-in-progress, it also provides a platform for moving beyond typical shortcomings in the assessment of key social and environmental stressors.
Source of Graphic: IPCC TAR WG1 (2001), Houghton, J.T.; Ding, Y.; Griggs, D.J.; Noguer, M.; van der Linden, P.J.; Dai, X.; Maskell, K.; and Johnson, C.A., ed., Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-80767-0 . Figure 2.32
This article is written by Michael Mondshine, WSP.
About the Author
Michael Mondshine is a vice president, sustainability and energy at WSP, where he leads the firm’s commercial climate preparedness practice. He is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of energy, sustainability, and climate change, with 25 years of experience in greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, policy development, mitigation, and resilience.

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