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Businesses must do more to protect Asia’s cities from climate disaster

Ashvin Dayal says businesses in Asia must realise that being part of a collective effort to mitigate climate change risks makes economic sense

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 6:45pm

Asia is witnessing a multitude of catastrophic climate-related disasters, with many lives lost and billions of dollars of damage done to economies. We need only look at the devastating effects of Super Typhoon Haiyan last year or the massive floods that brought Thailand to a standstill in 2011 to see the punishing impact of extreme weather.

But, as many business leaders in Hong Kong and across Asia are realising, building climate resilience is not just an important preventative approach; it can also be an economic development strategy.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the Asia-Pacific region suffers US$53.8 billion in losses annually from disasters. Climate scientists predict the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are set to accelerate. Such events lead to unforeseen costs on businesses and affect the growth, productivity and competitiveness of cities that fail to invest in climate mitigation schemes.

The economic and competitive advantages that accrue from climate resilience can only be realised through collective action. Businesses have a role to play.

While Hong Kong has so far been spared any visible impact, Typhoon Usagi's narrow miss last year should serve as a warning. Key industries are exposed to climate-related risks, including property, construction, financial services, manufacturing and supply chains, power generation and transport.

The Business Environment Council regularly conducts surveys on how businesses perceive climate change issues. In 2012, concerns about the rising cost of power, scarcity of environmental resources and business disruptions due to extreme weather rose sharply. Hong Kong is waking up to the new realities, but still only 6 per cent of those surveyed indicated they were very likely to invest in measures to minimise the risks of climate change to their company or supply chain.

Through efforts such as our "100 Resilient Cities" challenge, we are catalysing attention, funding and action to build climate change resilience across the region, with a focus on increasing corporate engagement.

Examples can be seen in public-private partnerships to combat urban flooding in Hat Yai, Thailand, and to establish an integrated disease surveillance system in Indore, India.

These efforts show a growing recognition that business continuity cannot be assured without confidence that the broader system is also taking measures to build climate resilience. Ultimately, cities that can better withstand shocks and stresses provide safer and more productive space for business operations and are likely to attract higher levels of investment.

Businesses must do more, especially in the urban areas they rely on. In an increasingly interconnected world, it is short-sighted to invest in securing your operations in the event of disruption when workers would not be able to access transport. Thinking has to transcend individual firms or industrial estates, and focus on collective action.

Business communities, governments and citizens need to come together to prepare for an uncertain future.

Ashvin Dayal is the associate vice-president and managing director, Asia, at The Rockefeller Foundation

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