TransLink: Adapting to climate change

In 2010, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority, TransLink, began incorporating climate change adaptation actions into their organizational structure to manage risks from climate change, particularly, sea level rise and intense rain; both of which can affect TransLink’s infrastructure, service delivery, and long-term reputation. TransLink is a regional transportation authority located in southern British Columbia. With Metro Vancouver as its core, TransLink encompasses 21 municipalities, one First Nation, and one electoral area. Managing climate change risks is key to TransLinks service delivery as flooding from sea level rise and increased precipitation could impact their assets in a number of ways, such as, temporary closure of bus terminals and transit stations if flooded from increased rainfall. To manage future risks, TransLink incorporated climate change into every part of the organizations decision making process. This case study highlights the role of TransLink accountants in adaptation through risk management, capital planning, and strategy development.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

TransLink’s executives initially discussed addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation following the development of a sustainability policy in 2008. However, climate-related key performance indicators at TransLink were not tied to outcomes, and so climate change didn’t garner complete organizational support. To advance the issue, TransLink’s executive management introduced a set of changes to enhance TransLink’s ability to address sustainability by incorporating it into every aspect of the business. Executive management worked to engage everyone in the organization in addressing sustainability and climate change. As a transportation provider, TransLink sees climate change directly impacting service delivery and infrastructure maintenance and development.

Climate change is expected to bring sea level rise and intense rain; both can affect TransLink’s infrastructure. Managing climate change risks is key to its service delivery, especially because of climate change’s impacts on infrastructure such as stations and rail lines. Using data from the City of Vancouver’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, TransLink determined that their biggest risk is flooding. Sea level rise could potentially impact TransLink’s assets in a number of ways: flooding of assets that are now within “expanded” floodplains; reduced clearage under bridges; and impaired operation of the SeaBus (ferry) terminal. Increased precipitation could also cause temporary flooding of TransLink’s assets that cannot manage the increased rainfall, such as bus loops, tunnels, and transit stations. In addition, warmer temperatures, including increasing heat waves, may affect customers’ health and comfort. TransLink’s fleet is not universally air-conditioned.

Identifying Actions

At TransLink, accountants have played a core role in adaptation. Centrally, with sustainability part of the Finance function, CFO Cathy McLay is responsible for ensuring that sustainability risks, including climate change, are part of TransLink’s decision making process. TransLink accountants are involved in adaptation through risk management, capital planning, reporting and strategy development. For example, within the Finance group, accountants help to identify risks through the risk register and ensure an appropriate strategy to address them is in place (Risk Management). As the Capital Review Committee considers infrastructure investments, accountants provide the financial analysis necessary to ensure projects are assessed in a systematic way across a broad base of organizational priorities (Capital planning/resource allocation). Accountants have also assisted with the development of the integrated annual report and sustainability key performance indicators (Reporting). While climate change adaptation isn’t a term commonly used at TransLink, the organization considers climate change risks and impacts as one of the factors in strategic decision-making around capital projects.

Implementation

TransLink began considering climate change impacts in 2010. By 2015, climate change risks were considered in all aspects of decision-making at TransLink on an ongoing basis. Within TransLink, the Finance department has responsibility for sustainability. As a result, sustainability elements such as climate change are embedded throughout the organization. In its climate adaptation efforts, TransLink has focused particularly on infrastructure and flooding. In 2012, TransLink conducted a climate change vulnerability assessment of its assets. The project was completed to support the organization’s Asset Management Plan. Furthermore, when they are maintaining their existing assets or building new infrastructure, they include an assessment of the climate change risks as to be able to foresee risks, such as flooding.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

TransLink staff have identified several ways to increase accountants’ skill in addressing climate change adaptation, including: greater knowledge of climate adaptation through more education on climate adaptation; greater knowledge on how organizations can adapt effectively, what metrics are useful, and what benefits adaptation provides; more training in enabling skills; and greater training in skills such as change management, communication and teamwork, to enable better collaboration with non-accountants.

Next Steps

TransLink continues to identify training and education opportunities for their accountants on climate change risks and adaptation. Furthermore, accountants at TransLink urge the profession as a whole to increase training in identifying and managing climate change risks; and enabling skills, such as change management, to enable better collaboration with colleagues in other functions.

Resources

Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Reprinted with permission from TransLink: Adapting to climate change, ©2015, by Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. All rights reserved by copyright owner.