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.1 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.2
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.
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.4
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,5 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.6
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.7
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.8
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.9
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.10
To build truly resilient societies, however, such investments must protect everyone, including those with few resources to deal with failing power or water systems.11 Adopting an equity lens can help governments evaluate not only the environmental impact of their actions but the broader social and economic outcomes.12 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.”13
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.14
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.15
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.16
The livestock industry is a major element of the Kenyan economy, accounting for more than 12% of GDP. But more than 70% of Kenya’s land is arid or semi-arid and highly vulnerable to drought.17 The droughts, which are getting more frequent and severe due to climate change,18 can have devastating ecological and economic consequences. Animals die due to lack of food and water, culminating in disaster for many pastoralists, for whom livestock is their only source of income.19
To increase the resilience of its most vulnerable pastoralists, Kenya’s government has partnered with the International Livestock Research Institute, the World Bank Group, and a consortium of insurance companies to launch the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP). KLIP uses satellite imagery to assess grazing conditions. Should conditions deteriorate beyond a predefined level, herders receive a lump-sum payment that helps them provide their livestock with feed and water during dry months.20
Satellite imaging made livestock insurance a possibility in Kenya. Traditional methods of assessing losses after a drought were financially and logistically impractical given the region’s size and remoteness. They also would have led to delays in payouts, increasing the likelihood of dead livestock. KLIP diminishes waste and ensures timely payouts.21 In 2019 and 2020 alone, KLIP supported 18,000 households in Kenya.22
As agencies draft ambitious climate resilience plans, a few steps can help them achieve long-term success:
Bob Perciasepe, former deputy administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland secretary of the environment
2021 was one of the warmest years on record; in fact, the last nine years (2013–2021) all rank among the 10 warmest years on record.25 We are feeling the increasing effects of this accelerated heating of the atmosphere. Resilience must rise to the top of government and business leaders’ priorities, and the good news is that they are focusing on this issue. But there is still work to be done, and we cannot afford inaction or ineffective action. Adapting to the impacts of climate change must be pursued along with mitigating the causes of this crisis. The two efforts should be coordinated and aggressively pursued.
Forward-looking governments should incorporate five key elements to increase success. 1) Open sharing and transparency with information, best practices, and experiences; 2) Include all aspects of government in the effort, not emergency response alone; for example, housing, infrastructure, public safety, and health; 3) Coordinate with other levels of government from national to local to regional; 4) Build strong partnerships with the private sector, which is working on resilience as well and is essential for any economic recovery; and 5) Embed equity and climate justice into all aspects of the work. Impacts can be disproportionately distributed, and the same communities can often be left behind from the benefits of climate action, such as improved air quality and jobs.
Climate impacts are here now and will continue to grow as the world struggles to meet the challenge of climate mitigation. This reality is why now is the time to institutionalize climate resilience along with climate action among government and business missions to prepare for future climate disruptions.
Climate action enables government agencies to invest for the future, promote equity, and provide better citizen services. To focus and prioritize our clients’ initiatives, we developed the Deloitte Climate Framework based on five target areas.