Extreme Heat, Heat Action Plans and Business Operations: What does this mean for the future?

Across the globe, the impacts of the climate crisis are becoming more tangible as temperatures continue to soar. Transport is disrupted, energy grids are suffering and severe droughts and wildfires are eroding biodiversity, as well as placing a strain on agricultural and water systems. Not only is the new increased frequency of extreme heat steadily becoming the norm, but also the increasing intensity. Extreme heat also threatens human life, as it displaces communities and disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable.

Across much of the Mediterranean this summer, wildfires have spread around Portugal, Croatia and Greece, with the island of Rhodes experiencing the largest wildfire evacuation in Greece’s history. The story is similar in other regions of the world as authorities have battled wildfires in Algeria,  Hawaii and Canada, as extreme temperatures have also been felt in Asia and North America.

The current unprecedented heat is being attributed to a duopoly of the climate crisis and the El Nino weather phenomenon being experienced across the Pacific Ocean. These factors have greatly influenced the Cerberus and Charon anticyclones, which moved across northern Africa and into the Mediterranean. The first week of July in 2023 was noted as the Earth’s hottest week on record, placing extreme stress on governments, communities and livelihoods as countries rallied to safeguard themselves against this issue. Countries such as Iran peaked at temperatures of 53 degrees, resulting in a two-day national shut down.

Extreme heat patterns have the ability to impact not only individuals but also businesses, as operational disruptions can be attributed to extreme heat. Power outages, equipment failure, supply chain interference may become more severe and increase in frequency – as well as the impact on employee health and wellbeing. The physical impacts of the climate crisis pose financial risk to businesses’ assets and operations, with a 2021 report from Impax Asset Management Group asserting that over two  - thirds of large companies have at least one asset at danger of being exposed to the climate crisis. No sector will be left untouched by these potential risks, with extreme heat being one of risks most likely to impact almost every sector.

In 2022, the UK experienced record-breaking heatwaves that led to infrastructure breakdown – melting roads, bending train tracks, bucking airport runways – and as this head abounds international, supply chain performance will suffer. Cities in particular will suffer from the Urban Heat Island Effect – wherein urban areas experience warmer temperatures than rural areas due to how the surfaces in built up areas absorb and hold heat – and international bodies are calling for national governments to instil safeguards against this heat. This year, the first week of September in the UK has been unusually warm, the heatwave resulting in the triggering of the London Severe Weather Emergency Protocol  and the UK Health Security Agency placing an amber heat health alert for the whole of England. As temperatures continue to rise, it is clear that around the world governments need to work with experts to craft mitigation and adaptation measures to safeguard against extreme heat.

Resurgence, researched and authored a Heat Communications Guide for Cities in South Asia as part of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) Programme which focused on the necessity of cities and states to develop a Heat Action Plan (HAP) to address the impacts of high temperatures. HAPs include various elements of preparedness and response, including early warning systems and public communications. Effective heat communication is a multi- stakeholder process, as it needs commitment from governments, civil society, and the public and private sectors.

Building programmes to address heat risk is becoming fundamental to safeguarding business operations around the world and in order to inhibit financial risk. Businesses too have the opportunity here to curb their own carbon emissions to aid the transition to Net Zero, protecting their own growth prospects and the wellbeing of the planet.

As the private sector continues to respond to these threats to industry and the planet, Nick Tune, Technical & Technology Director at Atkins and long term member of British Expertise International wrote about the uses of digital twinning as a powerful tool in protecting railway infrastructure against the extreme conditions caused by climate change (full piece available here). Nick noted in his piece that it is vital that the transportation industry – alongside all other industries – seek to tackle both the symptoms and the causes of the climate crisis. Businesses need to improve how they respond to extreme heat, whilst also making their buildings more efficient to reduce the risk of these events happening in the first instance. Digital twinning, for example, can help provide valuable insights to inform and guide how rail infrastructure responds to extreme weather conditions. It allows them to run an infinite number of scenarios and model them on a virtual replica of the network to create banks of data, and to allow logical  interventions based on this data should any issues arise. This enables trains to operate efficiently and businesses to make decisions made by real insights.

When speaking to Matthew Wiltcher, Director of mdsustain, he explained this to me further that extreme heat was likely to impact all businesses through operational disruption and negative economic impacts insofar as creating fluctuations in price, demand, and availability of products and services. "Increasingly", he noted, "clients, customers and employees want to know how climate change is impacts organisations and what plans they have in place to mitigate these impacts. Businesses need to consider and plan for these strategic and operational risks, along with the benefits of embracing sustainability within their organisations."

mdsustain, a sustainability consultancy and extension of Mannion Daniels, operate on the onus that the mitigation of negative climate and environmental impacts require more than just offsetting. There needs to be a systemic approach to sustainability, with the aim of improving an organisation and making a positive impact on the planet. Their business is dedicated to aiding organisations to analyse their wider environment and circumstances within which they operate. Their services help businesses understand their sustainability context and develop a plan to mitigation impacts and improve operational resilience.

With the tangible manifestations of extreme heat becoming more prevalent, it is clear that the combined collaboration of multiple stakeholders coupled with the effective use of technology are two of the critical weapons that will be needed to help society combat this growing threat to society, its citizens, business, and infrastructure.

Author: Katie Duffy, Programme Manager for Climate Resilience & Infrastructure 

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