UK businesses are increasingly assessing the physical and transition risks of their businesses due to climate change, which directly impact their financials. And while some might be more affected than others, climate change impacts every single sector. The knock-on impacts of severe weather events include disruption to supply chains and distribution channels, asset write-offs as a result of damage to property, while revenues can also be under threat with production capacities diminishing as a result of the physical impacts of climate change. Equally, climate risks also alter the availability of raw material and energy supply.
Looking at financial impacts, here are just two examples: the authors of the UK’s third Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) expect annual damages to non-residential properties due to flooding to be around £670 million, while Unilever estimates that it loses some €300 million per year as worsening water scarcity and declining agricultural productivity lead to higher costs in its supply chain.
In the LSE Climate Risk Business Survey 2020, which was undertaken by the Grantham Research Institute to help inform the Business and Industry Chapter (Chapter 6) of the CCRA3, the 225 respondents from across the UK and a wide range of sectors (e.g., Agriculture, Manufacturing and Services) reported that heavy rainfall (26.61%), surface water flooding (26.61%) and high temperatures (16.97%), including heatwaves, were the most frequent prolonged or extreme weather-related events directly or indirectly impacting businesses over the last year. The main impacts of these events were increased operation costs (19.02%), drop in labour productivity (e.g. staff unable to work or access sites) (18.05%) and physical damage to assets including buildings, stock, materials (17.56%).
Furthermore, the required decarbonisation will involve large-scale structural change across the UK’s economy as elsewhere, leaving UK businesses exposed to transition risks, which are driven by, for example, changes in policies, technological changes, changing customer preferences – due to heightened environmental awareness. Transition risks also include risks of higher costs of capital: investors might either demand a higher coupon on the capital markets or even turn away from companies if they can’t show that they are making the required progress on their path to net zero.
Overall, the CCRA3 report points out that business engagement in CCRA-related discussions has increased since CCRA2, which appears to be in line with growing climate awareness, recent public discourse, and regulatory change in the finance sector. Business discussions also reveal significant concern about possible reputational issues arising from inaction or failure to withstand climate risks. However, UK’s SMEs appear less proactive than larger UK corporates in terms of addressing risks, due to a narrower range of skills available to them as well as limited information and low levels of understanding of risks posed by climate change.
To identify the UK’s overall exposure to material ESG risks, investment management firm, Nutmeg, looked at the UK equity market, its industry groups and their ESG risks with the help of a mapping exercise, using the SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board) Materiality Map, a framework that focuses on 26 sustainability topics organised under 5 broad ESG themes that are likely to impact the operating performance of companies across industries: ‘Environment’, ‘Social Capital’, ‘Human Capital’, ‘Business Model and Innovation’, and ‘Leadership and Governance’.
Taking the FTSE All-Share Index (excluding investment trusts) as a representation of the UK market, the investment firm’s researchers found that the companies in the FTSE All-Share index are most exposed to the Social Capital theme – which includes issues that affect the productivity of employees, management of labour relations, health and safety of employees, and the ability to create a safety culture.
Moving from dimensions to more specific sustainability issues, the biggest area of concern proved to be ‘Product Design & Lifecycle Management’; a category related to incorporating environmental considerations in characteristics of products and services, encompassing lifecycle impacts (i.e. packaging and distribution) and a company’s ability to address customer and societal demands for more sustainable products, as well as meeting evolving environmental and social regulations.
However, there are clear signs that corporate UK is already addressing these two highest scoring material ESG risks – amongst, of course, other risks – with measures reaching from the increasing use of recyclable materials and more electricity efficient products, to diversity & inclusion programmes, wellbeing and mental health initiatives, and wider community projects. Furthermore, in solving ‘Social Capital’ related issues as well as those arising under ‘Product Design & Lifecycle Management’, the UK can play to its strengths of having a progressive and ambitious corporate governance and regulatory environment.