From natural environmental disasters to the impact on the environment by human activity, there are countless factors to consider when it comes to the management of environmental risks

During January 2019, the World Economic Forum published the 14th edition of the Global Risks Report 2019. The report highlighted that extreme weather conditions continue to be a threat.

In March 2019, the world watched Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving shocking devastation in its unforgiving path.

When looking at the report, the nature of environmental concerns to which we should be paying attention is clear. Why is it that we are undermining or underestimating these threats?

Downplaying environmental risk analysis

Unlike other disciplines, such as occupational health and safety, which have applied risk analysis practices, there is some way to go when it comes to the environmental discipline.

When conducting an environmental risk analysis, the objective is to understand the type of risk, its source and related consequences if it happens. Cyclone Idai might be seen as a single event that has had a devastating impact that will be felt for a long time to come.

Nonetheless, the saying “history repeats itself” cannot be underrated – because environmental risks are always in sight.

Organisations that are implementing ISO 14001:2015 environmental management systems could also use ISO 31000:2018 Risk management – Guidelines, as a yardstick.

Among others, the guidelines indicate that risk analysis should consider factors such as:

• the likelihood of events and consequences;

• the nature and magnitude of consequences;

• complexity and connectivity;

• time-related factors and volatility;

• the effectiveness of existing controls; and

• sensitivity and confidence levels.

Anticipate a Scenario in your organisation

An organisation’s environmental performance might be enhanced by conducting an environmental scenario analysis. It is likely that some scenarios might not be easy to quantify. For example, the health impact due to contamination of a water catchment basin. In 2018 we saw various news headlines pertaining to the sewage spillage in the Vaal Dam. Times Live ran the article titled: Troops battle Vaal sewage ‘invasion’.

Scenario analysis will be a good input for decision-making when it comes to determining the likelihood and potential consequences of the identified environmental risks, not forgetting risk-treatment strategies.

Why forewarned should be forearmed

The foundation of an organisation’s environmental-management system rests on compliance to applicable legal and other requirements, pollution prevention and continual improvement.

The manner in which an organisation’s operations and activities interact with the environment might pose significant environmental risks, or opportunities.

Organisations should continually evaluate the actual or potential impacts that their activities may have on the environment. When this is done, they should not downplay the environmental risk analysis phase.

On a lighter note, we are spoilt for choice with all the information available, notably from various risk reports. It is also not late to take lessons from Cyclone Idai.   

About The Author

Hope Mugagga Kiwekete is a managing consultant at the Centre for Enterprise Sustainability. Previously he was a principal consultant risk management at Transnet Freight Rail, a management systems specialist and senior EHS auditor at the South African Bureau of Standards. He has practised as a management systems consultant, trainer and auditor in the fields of risk management, environment, energy, occupational health and safety and quality management in various industry sectors in eastern and southern Africa and Southeast Asia.

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