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Thursday September 17 General

Building climate resilience: AT&T’s pioneering approach to tackle climate risks

At AT&T, we understand climate risks all too well. With the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, climate change threatens our infrastructure and adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of disaster recovery.

That’s why, in addition to our mitigation commitment to reach carbon neutrality, we are working to make our company more resilient to the impacts of climate change on future generations. We’ve been collaborating recently with climate experts to develop an industry-leading Climate Change Analysis Tool (CCAT), that visualizes and projects which neighborhoods and which pieces of infrastructure will be at risk in the future. Using detailed maps, we aim to improve the resilience of our network so our customers can continue to count on vital network connections in the aftermath of future disasters. We’re also sharing our climate data publicly so that communities can take steps to prepare and build climate resilience for their citizens. 

In 2019, we piloted CCAT with a focus on the American Southeast. Working with scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, we used their expertise and supercomputing capabilities to model how climate change will drive four types of extreme weather events over the next 30 years:

  • Inland flooding caused by increased precipitation
  • Coastal flooding caused by sea level rise and hurricane surge
  • High-intensity winds from hurricanes
  • Non-hurricane high-intensity winds

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Now we are expanding the scope of CCAT to cover the entire contiguous U.S. We also are growing the range of climate impacts we look at, adding drought and wildfire projections to ensure we’re aware of the most salient risks in each region.

With the tool’s insights about the prospects of extreme weather events in the coming decades, we can make more informed business decisions. For example, if we have a better sense of what areas might be prone to flooding or high-intensity winds, we can place our network infrastructure accordingly to better ensure uninterrupted service for our customers who rely on us for vital connections.

But the tool goes beyond resilience for AT&T’s infrastructure. After all, as we know from hurricanes like Harvey or Laura, the wildfires that rage across the western United States, or last year’s floods in the Midwest, almost every individual and community is vulnerable to climate change. It is a crisis that we face together as a global community, and building climate resilience is a critical component of ensuring a better world for everyone. It is our hope that, in making this hyper-localized climate data publicly available and free to access, nonprofits, municipalities and companies will use it to plan and build resilience based on their own vulnerabilities.

We already have started that mission. In 2019, we launched a Climate Resiliency Community Challenge whereby five universities are collaborating with local governments in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to use the data from our pilot to look at climate hazards. The results of this research should help local policy makers better understand community vulnerabilities and identify solutions to deal with these local threats. Their initial work underscores what too many people across the country have already experienced firsthand: vulnerability to climate change is not evenly distributed. Instead, underserved communities tend to face the greatest dangers while having the least ability to cope with disasters. 

As a research team at the University of Miami told us, “Historical practices of segregation continue to exert suppressive force on economic growth and health and well-being in these neighborhoods, exacerbating vulnerabilities to climate change impacts.” 

The costs of climate change already are being borne. We know that we must adapt, even as we work to mitigate climate change through our net-zero emissions commitment and technology that helps customers reduce their emissions. At AT&T, we have long been focused on using our technology to solve real-world problems. Climate change is real world. We’re resolved to take action today to strengthen our communities for the well-being of all residents tomorrow. And we’re resolved to provide them a network that, despite the impacts of climate change, will continue to connect our customers to the people and things they care about.

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