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“The world is now living through climate change, not watching it draw near” is the stark warning delivered by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in its sixth assessment report (AR6). In risk speak, high-impact, low-likelihood events will become more likely with higher temperatures. With COP 26 fast approaching and extreme weather events becoming […]


Climate Change risk: Are We Doing Enough, Fast Enough?

Posted on September 13, 2021 by

“The world is now living through climate change, not watching it draw near” is the stark warning delivered by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in its sixth assessment report (AR6).

In risk speak, high-impact, low-likelihood events will become more likely with higher temperatures.

With COP 26 fast approaching and extreme weather events becoming an uncomfortable ‘new normal’ across the world, not a week goes by without media coverage of the physical risks of climate change whether it be the: scorching heat in Canada, wildfires in the Americas, or devastating floods in Germany, India and China.

So, are we acting fast enough?

The verdict from the Climate Change Committee’s June progress report is “with every month of inaction, it is harder for the UK to get on track” with its climate ambitions.

To gauge the level of climate change risk maturity in government we surveyed Chairs of Audit and Risk Assurance Committees (ARACs). While four out of five ARAC Chairs considered climate risks to be relevant to their organisation, over half noted that their organisation did not have a climate or sustainability risk policy or a dedicated employee accountable for either. Additionally, seven in ten Chairs said that climate change risks had either never been discussed at an ARAC meeting or had been discussed less than annually.

Against this backdrop, we intend to help government organisations start the conversation around climate change risk.

What is climate change risk?

As risk professionals we tend to think in terms of “what could go wrong?” and how “how can we manage these risks?”.

Government organisations have a huge challenge in trying to balance short, medium and long-term risks. The UK, and indeed the rest of the world, are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed how crucial it is for organisations to have the resilience to respond to high-impact, low-likelihood events. It is important that a true assessment of long-term risks is considered.

Our good practice guide intends to help with this. In setting out the wide variety of potential risks that climate change can bring about, it will help all organisations across government – not just those responsible for leading on climate policy –identify and effectively manage a variety of climate change risks. These risks stretch beyond the physical risks, such as the impact of rising temperatures. They also include the risks posed by the transition to net zero and risks specifically posed to government organisations.

How to support and challenge management

Our guide further allows audit and risk assurance committees to constructively challenge management’s approach to climate change risk.

This can be done across the whole risk management cycle: from initial identification and assessment, to treatment and monitoring, through to risk reporting and continual improvement.

For many organisations effectively managing climate change risk will be a long journey. Our challenge questions are a great tool to help you do this.

Example questions
Example questions for the risk management principle ‘Governance and leadership (plain text alternative)

Key takeaways of the Good Practice Guide can be found here. We hope you find it helpful.

Authors: Mfon Akpan, Chris Coyne, Courtnay Ip Tat Kuen


About the authors           

Mfon Akpan

Mfon leads our Financial and Risk Management Hub. She is a Big Four trained multi-disciplinary Risk, Assurance and Governance professional with over two decades of cross-border leadership experience across the financial services industry and beyond.

Mfon has held roles at a number of blue-chip institutions, including the World Bank Group as a Risk Management Specialist, Standard Bank Group where she was the Chief Risk Officer and Regional Head of Risk for its operations in Nigeria and across West Africa, respectively, and Barclays Group Plc where she was an Audit Director.

Follow Mfon on LinkedIn

Chris Coyne

Chris manages our work on financial and risk management. He has been with the NAO since he joined as a graduate trainee in 2008, and has significant experience managing financial audits across a variety of government organisations.   

Follow Chris on LinkedIn 

Courtnay joined the NAO in 2013 as a graduate trainee. She has experience leading and managing audits in the public, commercial and charity sectors, as well as acting as an Ambassador for the International Technical Cooperation team.

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2 responses to “Climate Change risk: Are We Doing Enough, Fast Enough?”

  1. Fred Allgood says:

    How should my local Parish Council respond to climate emergency planning and sustainability in the Neighbourhood Plan it is currently engaged in producing? It does not appear to be addressing this crucially important topic at all at present. My concern is that it should be responding to CE positively given that the NP is likely to be with us for at least the next ten years. Many thanks.

    • Chris Coyne says:

      Thanks for your comment. In Part One of our good practice guide we show a variety of potential risks that could stem from climate change. Not all of these may be relevant to your specific circumstances, but it might give you some ideas about the types of things that could be considered when it comes to medium- and long-term climate change risks. In our guide we try to make it clear the importance of thinking about these risks now so all organisations start to manage the risks effectively.

      You may be also be interested to see our report on local government and net zero, which examines how effectively local and central government are collaborating on net zero, and the evidence sessions that the Environmental Audit Committee is holding on how local authorities can meet net zero.

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