The 2021 UN Climate Report: Takeaways for Sustainability Directors and Corporate Counsel

Smoke releases from a smoke stack at a chemical plant overlooking a body of water

August 12, 2021

IPCC report strengthens attribution of fires, extreme weather & climate change to GHG emissions & urges immediate reductions

On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 6th Assessment Report (AR6) on climate change and human-induced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The findings of the IPCC AR6 are substantial and could drive regulation, additional pressure from stakeholders, and certain litigation.

Takeaway 1: Significant cuts to GHG emissions are needed sooner than expected

The report concluded that severe climate impacts may occur sooner than previously anticipated unless dramatic GHG reductions are implemented. This finding may drive increased government regulation of GHG emissions and stakeholder demands for GHG reductions from companies. Companies will want to anticipate and leverage changes to regulation, consumer sentiment, and investor expectations by preemptively adopting sustainable practices to stay ahead of the curve.

Takeaway 2: Extreme weather will increase in intensity and frequency

The report projects increasing intensity and frequency of future extreme weather events. These projections provide additional information for companies, municipalities, investors, and insurers regarding the need for additional mitigation and resilience. Companies should evaluate their infrastructure to identify and mitigate climate risks by improving resiliency. For example, use of nature-based engineering projects, such as wetlands, can improve resilience while absorbing carbon and providing a local environmental benefit.

Takeaway 3: GHG emissions are affecting the global water cycle

The report indicates that human activities are increasing the variability of the global water cycle, which will increase focus on water management and is likely to drive additional regulatory and stakeholder demands to reduce water consumption. Companies should assess their current water usage and the risks associated with future water restrictions. Strategies to mitigate these risks include water treatment, recycling, and improved process efficiency.

Takeaway 4: Certain extreme weather events are being attributed to human activities

The report attributes certain extreme climate events to human-induced GHG emissions. The attributions included in AR6 could be cited in civil litigation where municipalities or organizations harmed by extreme weather seek compensation from companies with historical GHG emissions. Companies and their counsel should understand the basis and limitations of these attributions in the event they are used in a legal proceeding.

How Exponent Can Help

Exponent offers strategic, multidisciplinary climate consulting to public and private sector stakeholders seeking to mitigate the risks of climate factors, reduce GHG emissions and water consumption, and assess the environmental and ecological impacts of business operations. Exponent is publishing a series on how companies can use SMART goals to implement sustainability programs to help them lower their carbon and water footprint. Our broad expertise across numerous engineering disciplines, public health, ecological and environmental sciences, hydrology, natural resource damage assessment, and restoration and mitigation analysis gives our clients access to an unparalleled wealth of skills and resources that can help build unique solutions to unprecedented challenges.