Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.
Over the past 20 years, 91% of the worldwide disasters were climate related. The economic cost of these disasters was US$2,245 billion, and more than four billion people were affected. As world leaders around the globe join together to help combat climate change, technology has a role too. It provides tools to help people before, during, and after disasters so the impact of climate-related incidents can either be minimized or avoided. Plus, the effective use of technology can help abate roughly 20% of projected greenhouse gas.
According to the “Report on Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters” published in 2018, direct economic losses of all disasters amounted to US$2,908 billion, of which climate-related disasters were responsible for US$2,245 billion, or 77% of the total. This is up from 68% (US$1,313 billion) as reported between 1978 and 1997. Between the two 20-year periods 1998 to 2017 and 1978 and 1997, reported losses from extreme weather events rose by 151%. Most of the losses (US$945 billion) from 1998 to 2017 were recorded in the United States, reflecting high asset values as well as frequent events.
According to the United Nations Development Program, more than 40 million people across the globe in 2016 and 2017 were forced either permanently or temporarily from their homes by weather-related disasters, mainly in countries that contribute the least to climate change. Climate change is a threat to rich and poor alike.
The World Economic Forum conducts a survey ranking the likelihood and impact of five categories of global risks. In its “The Global Risks Report,” the organization ranked environmental risks as the most likely and impactful of the global risks. While extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, survey respondents were cited as being increasingly worried about “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation.” That view is shared by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in its “Report on Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters”: “At a time when climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, disasters will continue to be major impediments to sustainable development. Investing in disaster risk reduction is therefore a precondition for developing sustainably in a changing climate.”
The first of the subgoals of Global Goal 13 is to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
Here are a few examples of this in action.
Flooding is a major global problem and one that the city of Buenos Aires is all too familiar with. The city is plagued by torrential seasonal rains, which cause flash floods that take lives and damage property. In fact, in 2013, there were nearly 100 deaths from flooding, and the overall economic cost of this type of disaster was more than US$100 million. Given the devastation, the government took proactive action and installed sensors throughout the city that collect and analyze weather data, providing real-time reports on areas needing immediate support. This move was met with success in 2014, as the city was flood free, leaving its residents safe.
For Fire & Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) in Australia, technology is helping it predict fires and other natural disasters before they happen with accurate early-warning systems. As the area’s population continues to grow, the number and severity of natural and human-made disasters are expected to increase the need for disaster services. To better prepare for this, FRNSW has taken the lead in consolidating the key data among related agencies involved in protecting people and property.
FRSNW hopes to maximize responsiveness to emergencies by simplifying how the agencies can share resources according to the unique needs of each situation. Recently, dozens of bush fires scorched thousands of acres in New South Wales and blanketed Sydney in thick smoke and ash for days. The connected agencies helped minimize property damage and personal injuries using data that was collected, analyzed, and presented to incident controllers working to contain wild, wind-driven fires.
Even better than predicting disasters caused by climate change is preventing them, and technology – including Big Data and analytics – can play a role here too.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international organization under the auspices of the United Nations, also relies on data to help prevent climate-related disasters. The organization reviews and assesses scientific, technical, and economic data on changes in climate and their impact from thousands of scientists all over the world. Its 2018 “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C” describing the effects on sea-level rise, heat waves, and biodiversity loss alarmed the world when it came out in November 2018 because it made clear that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
While information and communication technology (ICT) is helping to detect, prevent, and alleviate the impact of natural disasters, it’s also something that consumes large amounts of energy, which in turn affects climate change.
However, IT can have a significant impact on mitigating the risk of climate change. A study from the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) demonstrated that ICT solutions, such as videoconferencing and smart building management, could cut the projected 2030 global greenhouse gas emissions by 19%. This would amount to energy and fuel savings comparable to 25 billion barrels of oil and a reduction of 12.1-gigaton carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases. This is equivalent to nearly 10 times the ICT sector’s emissions in the same period.
At SAP, our vision and purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Our technology is helping organizations such as the government of Buenos Aires and FRNSW improve the lives of the people they serve. Another example is Meteo Protect, which provides companies around the globe with customized insurance solutions to help offset the punitive financial impact of climate change.
Meteo Protect is part of the SAP Startup Focus program and uses the SAP HANA business data platform to monitor weather, analyze its historical patterns, and address its risks. For example, the company insures wine growers in Europe against the risk of yield loss due to unseasonal frost events, such as those that cost 40% of Bordeaux’s production in 2017. It also protects food-processing companies that buy commodities to prepare for and protect against the negative impact of weather on the growing of food.
In addition, we work with our customers to help them increase their overall resource productivity and transform their businesses to reduce carbon outputs. According to the UN Emissions Gap Report published in December 2018, 6,000 companies with at least US$36 trillion in revenue, including SAP and many of SAP customers, have pledged climate mitigation action. But many more of the over 500,000 publicly traded companies worldwide have yet to act. To help inspire more businesses to address climate change and achieve the societal benefits of sustainable development, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development recently introduced the new Alliance for Development and Climate. SAP is one of the 70 original partners.
Within SAP, sustainable practices are embedded in everything we do – from running our data centers to reporting our results to stakeholders. For example, one goal in our holistic sustainability strategy is to become carbon neutral by 2025. That requires SAP to run all its operations on 100% renewable energy and compensate for all other emissions within the material scope of its operations through investments such as those in the Livelihoods Carbon Fund.
This – together with a variety of carbon-reducing measures – helped our company decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 23,000 tons in 2018. But even more important, at 310 kilotons, the company’s carbon footprint is below year-2000 levels – despite growing more than fourfold in the interim. Back in 2009, SAP had set the goal of reducing its global greenhouse gas emissions to the year-2000 level by 2020. This target was met at the end of 2017. A closer look at the per capita values reveals what that reduction means: In 2000, SAP recorded 13.9 tons in carbon dioxide emissions per employee. Today it’s only around 3.2 tons, a significant decoupling of emissions from company growth. This has paid off not only in terms of environmental, but also economic impact created: Over the past three years, our energy efficiency measures have generated a cumulative cost avoidance of US$273.4 million.