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Adapting to climate change: a review of business adaptation practices in sustainability reports (Private Sector Initiative of the UNFCCC and Supersector Leaders of the DJSI)


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Supported by scientific evidence of observed impacts and projected scenarios of climate change, this research investigates the engagement of the private sector in the efforts to adapt to climate change. Specifically, it explores how companies are making use of their sustainability reports in order to disclose actions intended to adapt their own business to climate change, and to provide mechanisms of adaptation to the most vulnerable communities and countries across the world. To achieve this goal, sustainability frameworks provided by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), which serve as the basic structure of the reporting process, are analysed and evidences whether their structures provide, or not, means for disclosing practices of adaptation are examined. In the next step, 48 sustainability reports of selected enterprises are analysed in order to identify adaptation initiatives disclosed, and find signs whether companies have been reporting their adaptation efforts regardless the structure of the framework applied. Selected companies are partners of the Private Sector Initiative (PSI) of the Nairobi work programme (NWP) on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, programme carried out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the enterprises selected to integrate the list 2012- 2013 Supersector Leaders of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). From the collected and processed data arises an inventory of significant adaptation practices found in the sustainability reports that well exemplify the variety of actions implemented to tackle climate impacts. Recommendations for improving the scope of the sustainability frameworks and a critical reflection on the methodology applied are discussed, among other conclusions.
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There is growing international interest in the planning, financing and implementation of adaptation to climate change. However, the discussion to date has primarily focused on the public sector’s role, with the private sector viewed primarily as a source of funding or financing. Relatively little attention has been paid to how the private sector is responding to the risks and opportunities from climate change. In this context, this analysis aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of private sector’s role. This paper examines the private sector’s progress in adapting to climate change by considering information from sixteen case studies, drawn from a range of industries across the private sector. This is complemented by a high-level analysis of broader private sector adaptation based on responses to the 2009 Carbon Disclosure Project questionnaire. The case studies provide insight into companies’ awareness of potential climate risks and vulnerabilities, their progress in assessing specific impacts on their businesses and possible ways to respond to them, and their implementation of adaptation measures and strategies to manage these risks. The analysis also examines how companies are taking advantage of new business opportunities arising from climate change. The paper explores companies’ motivations for implementing adaptation measures, and establishes common factors which can affect companies’ capacities to adapt, their incentives for action, and their perspectives on the need to adapt. The analysis considers how these factors can both encourage and impede adaptation, and assesses potential public sector roles for eliminating barriers to action, encouraging engagement and incentivising private sector investment in adaptation.
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