UK-defra-climate-risk-assessmentThere are those businesses that have always had to factor the weather into their planning and decision-making: milk truck operators don’t bother going out when it’s snowing and market gardeners are ready with the sprayers and irrigators when a warm spell is forecast.

Conversely, most “indoor” businesses have felt that they can carry on in much the same way regardless of the weather. Well, according to scientists and academics and now the UK Government’s Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, they may have to think again.

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment published by DEFRA in early 2012, illustrates that British businesses face a range of threats, as well as some opportunities, posed by a changing climate.

The study predicts that increased rainfall, particularly as part of increasingly extreme weather events, will cause disruption to businesses and their supply chains as a result of flooding and the closure of transport links. Businesses located in flood-prone areas may also find it difficult, and certainly more expensive, to get insurance.

It is predicted that hotter summers will increase the risk of overheated workplaces with consequent adverse effects on employee health, morale and productivity and the need to install and run expensive air-conditioning.

On a positive note (and this really is looking on the bright side of a bad situation) the melting of the Arctic sea ice is expected to open up shorter, and therefore cheaper, shipping routes connecting the UK with some of its key global trading partners, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

The report also suggests that warmer summer weather may make Britain more popular as a tourist destination, with associated benefits for businesses such as hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions.

Overall, the picture is a mixed one with both winners and losers in the brave new warmer world. As the report concludes:

“Climate change is likely to present ‘UK plc’ with extensive opportunities (e.g. to provide adaptation-related products and services for customers at home and abroad). However, these may be outweighed overall by threats to fixed assets, workforces, supply chains and businesses’ day-to-day ability to meet their customers’ requirements.”

So the message is clear: climate change is happening. Businesses may expect either to gain or to lose but what they can no longer afford to do is ignore the weather outside the office window.

by Peter Tyldesley