“We need to be planning as far as 30 years ahead to mitigate the impact of climate change on our businesses,” FERMA Vice-President Michel Dennery commented following the presentation at the 2012 FERMA Seminar by keynote speaker, Thierry Touchais, executive director of the Belgian based International Polar Foundation.

“Our activities have already loaded earth’s systems to such a degree that any action we take now will not prevent the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels. We have to mitigate, and we must start thinking on a much longer time scale than businesses normally do,” said Michel, who is deputy CRO for GDF Suez and by background an engineer.

Thierry Touchais

Thierry Touchais

In his talk, Thierry Touchais illustrated how human activity is introducing feedback loops into the earth’s systems, reinforcing existing problems. For example, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet releases freshwater into the sea, which can change ocean circulation and weather patterns. Ocean warming and sea level rise in turn could have a destabilising effect on the Antarctic ice sheet.

The latest projections for the rise in sea levels are sharply higher than those published as recently as 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Many parts of Europe, especially on the North Atlantic coast from Belgium across Germany and the Netherlands to western Denmark, are within 1m elevation of the coast, substantially increasing the risk of storm surge.

Said Michel: “We have to learn to live with this new environment. FERMA members need to help their companies be aware of the consequences. Now is the time to envisage how we are going to manage these changes which are already underway in our environment.”