As leaders at AT&T work to mitigate climate change and adapt to its pending impacts, the reality of climate change on business becomes evident. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, and natural disasters stand out among global risks the organization—and many others—face. For executives shaping long-term business strategy, it’s a reality they can’t afford to ignore.
“It’s not just AT&T. I’m seeing this more and more in all kinds of industries where companies are saying, ‘If this is the reality, then let’s prepare for it, let’s deal with it,’” says Antoine Diffloth, director of data insights in the Chief Data Office at AT&T.
As one of the world’s largest telecom companies by market cap, AT&T’s essential infrastructure, including cell towers and base stations, stands vulnerable to climate change impacts. In response, the telecom giant engaged in a pioneering public-private collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.
Together, they developed a Climate Change Analysis Tool (CCAT) capable of identifying areas of the AT&T network most at risk in the US Southeast. The project used the data-gathering and supercomputing power of the leading national lab and the visual and analytic capabilities of geographic information system (GIS) technology.
With an exceptional degree of detail, executives were able to forecast how infrastructure assets in four states—Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida—could be affected by, for example, a 50-year storm event in the coming decades. Based on the success of that effort, the analysis is being extended to cover the entire contiguous US to project climate impacts such as flooding, wildfires, and drought at regional, local, and neighborhood scale.
Early in the initial process, the team realized that while the location intelligence clearly exposed company climate risk, they needed a way to share the insight. To do this, they built GIS smart maps that could quickly communicate with stakeholders to support decisions about adaptation and resilience.
Here are four things executives can learn from AT&T about preparing for climate change.
1: Risk is more immediate than we think.
A 2019 UN report indicated climate change is affecting all aspects of the natural environment, as well as the health and wellbeing of the global population. Authors of the report warned based on current trends, the planet will experience a four to five-degree temperature increase by the end of this century.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and climate expert points to impending extremes already occurring that will accelerate without immediate, adequate action. “Climate change is not going to be a gradual increase over the next 10, 20, 30 years,” warns Shepherd. “I fear that there will be places that have succumbed to sea-level rise. We will be facing here in Georgia some odd tropical disease that 30 years ago you’d have to go down near the equator to find. Life as we know it will change.”
Climate change will have increasing effects on business supply chains, infrastructure, workforce, and business continuity. In fact, the cost of climate change is already becoming more apparent. According to