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Politics aside, climate data is a growing business
May 29, 2019

Politics aside, climate data is a growing business

Companies are paying to understand their risks from climate change.

This week, the Trump administration took steps to limit climate science research within government agencies, according to a report in the New York Times. It will reduce the time frame covered by U.S. climate models, and possibly stop the inclusion of certain projections, like worst-case scenarios.

This is happening at a time when private industry is trying to increase climate intelligence. In the new series “How We Survive,” Marketplace Tech has been looking at how technology can help us adapt to and understand the risks of climate change. Reliable data models are a huge part of that effort.  

One person working to translate the climate data for companies? Emilie Mazzacurati, founder and CEO of the climate data firm Four Twenty Seven, which helps businesses determine how extreme weather could impact them and prepare for how to deal with it. She spoke with Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood about her work. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Emilie Mazzacurati: For many years we described ourselves as a climate adaptation firm, as well. The first thing for adaptation is to understand your risk. That’s really this foundational data layer that we provide. The only difference is the private sector calls it “resilience” and the governments call it “adaptation.” But it’s really all moving in the same direction of preparing for those impacts. 

Molly Wood: What do the companies do after you’ve advised them? I imagine the simplest answer is ‘don’t buy there. Or don’t build there.’

Mazzacurati: It depends. There’s a range of things that they can do. That includes hardening — from an engineering standpoint —their facility. It can be working with insurance to make sure that they’re well covered in case of certain events. And adaptation, as we’ve described it, that will protect not just this company’s facilities versus another, but the entire community, including the workers that live nearby and the roads that bring goods and services. So whether it’s well understood self-interest, or broader community interest, everybody’s better off if we’re all protected.

Exposure to extreme precipitation of facilities held by the world’s 2000 largest publicly-traded companies, as mapped by Four Twenty Seven. (Courtesy Four Twenty Seven)

Wood: There is this argument that while the businesses that can afford your services are going to do fine … everybody else is going to be left to the high water. But it sounds like you’re saying you see a broader benefit in working with these businesses and helping them adapt and stay where they are.

Mazzacurati: Absolutely. We do work with the very large corporations, and they have the power and the wherewithal to be huge influencers in their communities, in their supply chains. We’re also seeing some of our clients understanding that small businesses are actually going to be much more vulnerable, and there’s a role of local governments and financial institutions to help channel this information through smaller businesses.

Wood: Are any companies coming to you after the fact?  I mean does Facebook know that they’re going to be underwater in 20 years?

Mazzacurati: I believe they know that, yes. And we see some of everything. We see a lot of companies coming right now because their investors are asking questions, and we see companies coming — not so much here, but in Europe, in Asia, there’s a lot of regulatory pressure. So, both investors and corporations fully expect that they’re going to be under regulation in a matter of twelve months pretty much.

Wood: Does turning your attention somewhat to resilience and adaptation, does it feel a little more hopeful to be doing something?

Mazzacurati: There are really dark days to be honest, when we look at projections for certain parts of the world. When we read the latest scientific article on sea level rise or impacts on food production globally. It can be a little rough. So, we’d better be in the thick of things helping move the ball forward and helping inform. The more data, the more information, the more likely we will make the right decisions, the more likely people would pay attention. You can make the business case that this will be money well spent because look at the risks and at the costs. So, there is a hopeful component. But we do work on a pretty dark topic.

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