As the world has pondered the projected impacts of climate change for decades, the climate has not waited for us to make up our minds. The change we are seeing around the world is accelerating, extreme and disruptive climate driven events are becoming more frequent and intense, while people, ecosystems, infrastructure and economies are suffering the consequences.

There will always be some uncertainty when it comes to projecting how the climate will evolve. For instance, we do not know for sure the rate at which global greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted (and hopefully reduced), and our best models are limited in their capacity to accurately represent the countless processes and feedback loops that contribute to climate change.

That said, we certainly know enough to take measures to reduce our risks. We have long observation records, sound scientific principles, robust analysis techniques and, despite their inherent limitations, some of the most advanced models ever created giving us a range of potential future realities.

In recognition of and in response to the growing climate threat, Wood has developed a global network of scientists, professionals and technical experts focused on helping our customers increase their resilience to an uncertain future.

I had the honour of presenting on Wood's climate resilience capabilities this past week at the 11th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit. While listening to the other speakers, I was impressed with the urgency in which the counties and municipalities in South East Florida are responding to climate change and, in particular, to sea-level rise. Their focus, pragmatism and commitment were inspiring.

One of Wood’s projects with Monroe County in the Florida Keys was widely discussed at the summit. As part of this project, we are collaborating with HDR and Erin Deady Law to conduct a sea-level rise vulnerability assessment and inundation study of the 300 miles of County-owned road. The preliminary results of our work, presented by the County’s sustainability director, detailed specific costs of adaptation (raising the road) for a specific location and timeline. The costs were far higher than anyone initially expected and implied that an engineering solution, in this case, may not be feasible.

It was one of the first instances that I am aware of where a public official stated in a very public way that not everything and everywhere can be saved. The New York Times published an article focusing on the results of our work and the implication for residents: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/climate/florida-keys-climate-change.html

Our work on this project, the county’s presentation, and the resulting New York Times article represents what could be the beginnings of a shift in public discourse towards what the Monroe County Administrator introduced, and many summit attendees referred to as “courageous conversations.”

In the coming decades, hundreds of millions of people are expected to be faced with similarly difficult decisions as many residents in Florida. How will they plan, adapt and potentially engage in a retreat to safer locations?

Wood is an active and trusted partner of government and industry in global resilience and the development of sustainable infrastructure. Our flood risk management solutions have helped coastal urban areas in the British Virgin Islands to become stronger, greener, and more resilient; we provide local authorities with waterfront asset vulnerability analyses to help them withstand future environmental disruptions; and we were engaged by the European Commission to develop a practical funding and implementation guide on natural flood risk management.

We provide the information and science on which to base decisions and assess the risks and vulnerabilities of systems and infrastructure. We develop and implement warning systems to alert stakeholders of high-impact events. We create innovative infrastructure solutions, combining our 160 years of technical expertise with the latest technology to ensure they are future-proofed. And we actively engage with an array of stakeholders and bring them to the table to participate in these courageous conversations.

If you and your teams would like to have a courageous conversation on the resilience of your assets or communities, please reach out to me at jonas.roberts@woodplc.com. At Wood, we see the need for these types of solutions to only increase with the rising temperatures and tides.

Dr. Jonas Roberts
Manager Met-Ocean and Atlantic Services