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AT&T: Majority of US business leaders view climate change as a priority

A survey of U.S. business leaders indicates that while many executives view climate change as a potential financial risk, most have yet to fully prepare for that risk.

The survey, commissioned by AT&T Inc. and conducted by Morning Consult, found that among a sample of 619 U.S. business leaders, 81% expect at least a "somewhat significant" financial impact from climate change, and 59% view climate change as a medium or high priority. Despite these majorities, less than a third, or 29%, have assessed the risks of climate change to their business.

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"The research demonstrates that the business community is thinking about climate change and how best to respond to its impacts," said Tyler Sinclair, vice president of client services at Morning Consult, in a statement. "The responses show there is interest — and opportunity — in finding ways to improve climate resilience."

About 27% of surveyed business leaders said they had already experienced a negative financial impact due to severe weather events, such as hurricanes, flooding, wildfires or droughts. The figure increased when leaders were asked whether their employees had been impacted, with 38% saying their workers had experienced negative impacts from severe weather in the past five years.

AT&T said it intentionally commissioned the survey at the onset of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season to better understand how businesses are preparing for climate change.

The telecom giant, which is headquartered in Dallas, is among those companies to have seen a significant financial impact from extreme weather in the past five years. In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged areas in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, making them among the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

All told, AT&T incurred costs totaling $626 million related to natural disasters in 2017. A year later, in 2018, the costs totaled $181 million.

"It's important we know the risks and learn how to adapt," said Charlene Lake, AT&T's senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and chief sustainability officer, in a news release.

Of the surveyed business leaders, 53% said their company is taking steps to respond to climate change. These steps include reviewing emergency response plans and investing physical updates to systems. Among those companies making changes, 34% said they are either in the process of moving or planning to move operating facilities out of higher-risk areas.

AT&T is working with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory on a climate change resiliency project. The project combines Argonne's regional climate modeling data and mapping capabilities with data about AT&T's network assets, enabling the company to visualize the risk to its infrastructure 30 years into the future. One goal of the project is to identify physical assets — such as cell towers, copper lines, fiber cables, data centers or retail locations — that may be at risk from storms or other factors to determine whether additional resiliency or investment is needed.