What is the link between climate change and human capital management? In this article, Madeleine Ronquest highlights the crucial role of HR managers in the preparation of climate change strategies and forward planning to enable companies to make provision for current and future challenges.
by Madeleine Ronquest
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Madeleine Ronquest is the Head of the Environmental Department for FirstRand Group Ltd. and her portfolio includes Energy Management, Climate Change and Environmental Management.
Her background and qualifications include environmental science, environmental management and environmental law. Her role is to ensure that FirstRand complies with legal and international requirements, but also strategically that FirstRand is positioned as one of the business leaders in climate change in South Africa and plays a pertinent role in leading South Africa into a low carbon economy.
When climate change and human capital management is mentioned in the same title, one wonders where the link could be, because the one has to do with science and the other with people, and at face value there doesn’t seem to be any connection. This could be the reason why many HR Managers have never given climate change impacts on human resources any further thought.
There is a very strong link between people and the survival of the planet. The terms “climate change” and “global warming” are everywhere – on television, in newspapers and magazines, our children learn about it at school and we, as parents, have to help with projects on the topic. If these are such important issues, what should we be doing about it? We need to be informed, and then we need to start thinking laterally about the impacts of global warming on our daily lives and particularly on our businesses.
What is climate change? Climate change is the natural cycle through which the earth and its atmosphere are going to accommodate the change in the amount of energy received from the sun. The climate goes through warm and cold periods, taking hundreds of years to complete one cycle.
Changes in temperature also influence the rainfall, but the biosphere is able to adapt to a changing climate if these changes take place over centuries. Unfortunately, human intervention is currently causing the climate to change too fast. Climate models predict that the mean air temperature over South Africa will increase with an estimated 2°C over the next century. Plants and animals may not be able to adapt as quickly to this "rapid" climate change as humans can and, therefore, the whole ecosystem is in danger.
The global climate system is driven by energy from the sun. Several gases in the atmosphere act to trap the energy from the sun, thus warming the earth. These gases are called greenhouse gases and the process is the greenhouse effect. Without this, there would be no life on earth.
Human activities over the past 200 years, particularly the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) and the clearing of forests, have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is likely to lead to more solar radiation being trapped, which in turn will lead to the earth's surface warming up. This is called the enhanced greenhouse effect.