Experts advise businesses on climate change

Governments should avoid costly subsidies for renewable energy and businesses ought to be investing to limit the impacts from extreme-weather events.

Governments should avoid costly subsidies for renewable energy and businesses ought to be investing to limit the impacts from extreme-weather events.

These are the two key recommendations from two leading analysts with quite different careers.

Admiral Dennis Blair, formerly US Director of National Intelligence for President Barack Obama and commander of US Pacific forces, said climate change was "becoming a specific issue ... in the security planning of all countries".

Admiral Blair will outline the "future global security agenda" at the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development on Thursday in Canberra. He cited the unrest in Syria and Egypt as related to more extreme weather and predicted greater pressure on water resources, including in Asian nations reliant on seasonal flows from the shrinking Himalayan ice cap.

He supports placing a price on carbon, while recognising such a policy was unlikely to win backing in the US and faces the threat of being repealed in Australia if the Coalition is elected in September.

"We're just not going to be able to get a big-bang solution," Admiral Blair said. "I know of very few businesses who will volunteer to make their products more expensive because of something that might happen in 20 or 30 years."

The retired admiral's comments come as President Obama is expected to reveal in the US his long-awaited climate change action. Rather than seeking congressional backing for a price on carbon - a battle he lost during his first term - Mr Obama is likely to use regulatory powers to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, spur renewable-energy investments on public lands, and provide incentives to increase energy efficiency.

Admiral Blair argues that if governments are to spend money in this area, it should be in research and development, such as in universities, rather than to pour subsidies into favoured industries. "It creates bubbles that are unsustainable, and when government subsidies are finally pulled out, there's some sort of crash that discredits what otherwise might have been a good idea."

Director of the CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship Paul Hardisty said it was up to companies to make investments to limit the effects from the expected increase in wild weather on their businesses.

Dr Hardisty, whose former roles include global director for sustainability at mining services company WorleyParsons, will tell this week's forum there is a "huge upside" in investing in programs with "no regrets" - steps they should take whatever their view on the seriousness of global warming.

Preparing for extreme heat, for instance, can involve simple improvements to insulation and adaptive-cooling systems, resulting in big energy savings, and protecting the health of employees.

Recent floods in Australia have also shown firms that "retrofitting" is a lot more expensive than building in resilience at the outset, not least because cost pressures are fiercest when many firms seek to recover at the same time. While some firms are undertaking risk assessments, many are not as prepared as they should be, Dr Hardisty said.