It’s hard to ignore it: natural disasters due to climate change have been multiplying since the start of 2023, both in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. In Quebec alone, we can think of the major ice storm in April, which was the worst since the 1998 crisis; the spring floods that affected many areas; short but intense episodes of torrential rain in spring and summer; the much more frequent occurrence of violent thunderstorms; tornadoes, which seem to be on the increase in the Gatineau/Ottawa region; tornado warnings for regions that are unusual for this type of phenomenon (eg. Montreal, Montérégie, Laval), dry spells that caused numerous forest fires and consequently poor air quality across the province, and much more.
The country’s other provinces and territories are also experiencing the full impact of these changes:
- Record numbers of forest fires still burning, causing poor air quality across Canada, the U.S. and causing clouds of smoke and fine particles as far away as Europe (unprecedented in history).
- Floods, deluges, tropical storms of all kinds and Category 1 and 2 hurricanes on the rise in the Maritimes
- Ice storms on the rise
- Arctic cold across the country in winter
- More frequent hailstorms in summer
- Blizzards and storms with heavy accumulations of snow and ice in winter
- Heat waves across the country
- Extremely hot spells in many regions
- Increasing drought on the Prairies, in Alberta and now also in British Columbia and other provinces
- Melting glaciers in the Rockies
- Thawing permafrost in the Arctic
- Rising water temperatures in Canada’s three oceans (Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic)
- More landslides
- Migration of animal species competing for resources or breeding sites
Climate change has a significant impact on our lives at many levels, encompassing the environment, the economy, health and society as a whole. These impacts include the migration and displacement of populations, the aggravation or appearance of certain health problems, damage and losses to essential infrastructures (e.g. electricity, communications, roads, drinking water, etc.), homes, personal property and ecosystems. Finally, these situations can also cause financial insecurity and precariousness, bankruptcies and mental health problems for disaster victims.
In addition, rising temperatures and milder winters in Canada are encouraging the migration of insects and disease-carrying organisms such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease (which are increasingly present). Scientists are also monitoring other types of pathogenic organisms that could migrate over the next few years, and the emergence of infectious diseases for which there are as yet no treatments.
As the aim of this article is to raise your awareness, we’ll confine ourselves to a few brief explanations.
What does this mean for companies?
The issue of climate change affects businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Faced with these unfortunate events, some companies react quickly and want to put in place a business continuity or crisis management plan that only takes climate change into account. It’s almost as if the plan is drawn up according to the flavor of the month, with climate change taking center stage more than ever. This reaction, while normal, is often motivated by two factors: maintaining the company’s good reputation, and the emotion of the moment.
In reality, it’s not good practice to put in place a plan that focuses on a single risk without considering all the others that exist.
More concretely (a real-life case), if your company’s only location is in a multi-storey office tower in downtown Montreal, implementing a forest fire strategy when there is no forest nearby may not correspond to the reality of this location. An approach that considers air, water and soil quality/contamination, as well as the risk of flooding (e.g. caused by torrential rains) and fire, would probably be more in line with the reality of the area’s perimeter. This example illustrates the importance of identifying your organization’s risks and avoiding costly initiatives that don’t correspond to your reality.
As a company, what should you do?
Let’s continue with our example of climate change and the risks it poses to your business. If you want to address this issue, it’s important to integrate it into an overall risk analysis, rather than treating it as an isolated issue. Indeed, carrying out such an analysis allows you to take into account the complex interactions between the various risks, and to gain a more holistic perspective of how they may affect the company as a whole.
Before embarking on such a project, take a step back and ask yourself the questions listed below. They cover many more areas than simply those related to climate change. You’ll find that, in many cases, there are several ways of approaching the issue in a holistic way that will simplify your efforts:
- What are our objectives and core activities?
- What are our critical assets and resources?
- What events and scenarios could affect us?
- What risks does my company face?
- Does the company have any vulnerabilities?
- What are the consequences if the risks materialize?
- How do we prioritize and manage identified risks?
- Does the company have up-to-date, tested resilience plans (business continuity plan, crisis management plan, IT succession plan, emergency response plan, etc.)?
- Has the company ever had to carry out an emergency shutdown of all its manufacturing production operations in complete safety to avoid the risks of fire, explosion, meltdown, instability, contamination and leakage of hazardous substances?
- Are said emergency shutdown procedures periodically tested in a real-life context?
- Does the company require sequential restarting of production, and if so, over what period, and has this already been tested under real-life conditions?
- Is the storage of hazardous substances safe even in the event of fire (including forest fires)?
- Do the holders of roles and responsibilities in the resilience plans know what they have to do in the event of a trigger?
- Do we have an emergency contact list?
- Do we have the means to secure technological systems and physical access without having to access offices (sites) and in the event of non-access for a period of several days/weeks?
- What are the capabilities for maintaining operations should the site become completely off-limits or inaccessible for a month?
- What are the strategies for maintaining operations if employees, suppliers and customers located in a different area of the company were to be evacuated for a few weeks while the area where the company is located remained open and accessible?
- Does the company have the necessary resources and capabilities to manage a crisis and, above all, seize opportunities to emerge from the crisis and mitigate the risks and vulnerabilities discovered?
- What assistance and support programs can the company offer its stricken employees and their family members, as well as the community (social responsibility)?
- Does the company have workarounds, adjustments, additional controls, evaluation and monitoring processes for employee morale (mental health* and/or trauma**)?
* Examples of mental health disorders: post-traumatic shock, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, emotionality, depression, inattention, etc.
** Examples of trauma: loss of a home and all personal possessions, serious injury and/or death of a family member or colleague, role of close caregiver while having to work, family members housed separately in several locations, complex and repetitive administrative procedures with governments, major financial problems, etc.
- Has the company introduced additional health and safety measures to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries following a major disaster or the triggering of a business continuity plan?
On the other hand, if your company has more than one business site, it is incumbent on you to carry out a source analysis of major external risks for each of these sites, since these may not be the same from one location to another. The consequences would not be the same, nor would the mitigation and workaround strategies required. A “one size fits all” model is not necessarily the most appropriate approach.
In short, taking the time to develop a comprehensive and well-executed risk and impact analysis requires a methodical approach, multi-stakeholder engagement and informed decision-making to reduce risk exposure and improve business resilience. The buy-in of senior management and the board of directors is needed to improve the posture of risk governance and, above all, to have the necessary support to instill a culture of resilience in the organization. What’s more, the costs will be lower and the process more efficient than if you were to do it on a case-by-case basis. To find out more about some approaches to risk analysis, read our blog post devoted entirely to the subject.
By asking the right questions and involving the right people, your company will be able to gain a solid overview of its risks and develop effective risk management, analysis and mitigation strategies. Avoid focusing all your efforts on a single issue and opt for an integral approach. You’ll win in the long run!
If you need professional help to carry out your company’s risk analysis, to set up and/or revise a business continuity plan (BCP), a crisis management plan (CMP), an IT disaster recovery plan (DRP) or an emergency response plan (ERP), contact us today for a personalized service: [email protected].