November 14, 2022

The UNC Center on Financial Risk in Environmental Systems (CoFiRES) held its sixth annual Strategic Planning Retreat at the Morehead Planetarium on Oct. 14.

Dr. Gregory Characklis

Dr. Gregory Characklis

CoFiRES is a partnership between the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC’s Institute for the Environment, which seeks to quantify the financial losses associated with extreme environmental events, such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and hurricanes. The Center strives to understand how variability in environmental conditions translates into financial risk for an organization in terms of variable revenues and/or costs and to develop new tools for managing this risk, according to CoFiRES Director Greg Characklis, PhD, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School.

“The CoFIRES annual retreat is always a highlight,” said Mike Piehler, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment and chief sustainability officer at Carolina. “Learning about the amazing work that Greg and his team are doing and having a chance to interact with them throughout the day is fantastic. It is a remarkable event.”

The Strategic Planning Retreat’s goal is to introduce the Center’s work to a broader audience, attracting attendees from a range of backgrounds, including academia, the private sector and state government. Academic attendees included faculty and students from across the University: the Gillings School of Global Public Health, College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Law, and the School of Government.

“We try to invite a broad swath of people that can give us feedback on what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and assist us in identifying new questions to pursue,” Characklis said.

Christina Petagna, a master’s student in environmental sciences and engineering, speaks at the CoFiRES Strategic Planning Retreat.

Characklis kicked-off the event with an introduction to CoFiRES, which was followed by four sessions of lightning talks given by CoFiRES graduate students and researchers. Topics focused on the financial risks that flooding, infectious disease, drought and extreme temperatures pose for different organizations, including water suppliers, electric utilities, health care facilities, lenders and local governments. Each talk was followed by a more in-depth discussion.

The event culminated in three presentations on assessing and managing the environmental financial risks of water scarcity in the Western United States, hydrometeorological extremes for the energy sector, and infectious disease outbreaks for the healthcare system.

“I continue to be amazed by the breadth and depth of the numerous research coming out of the CoFIRES program and its application to real-world problems,” said Jeff Warren, executive director of the NC Collaboratory. “For example, the financial risk modeling related to flooding that was funded by the Collaboratory has generated numerous conversations with NC General Assembly staff, and we are confident this data will help guide policymakers as they consider numerous factors associated with flood resiliency within our State.”

While the Strategic Planning Retreat is the Center’s biggest annual event, CoFiRES organizes a variety of smaller-scale events, including seminars with guest speakers throughout the year. The Center has been operating since 2017.

“The continued support of both the School of Public Health and the Institute for the Environment makes events such as the Strategic Planning Retreat possible,” said Characklis. “Without it, we would not be able to reach the broader audience of policymakers and private sector groups that can amplify the impact of our research”.

Through a better understanding of the frequency and severity of financial losses due to environmental variability, CoFiRES seeks to develop models and strategies to help individuals, businesses and government agencies improve their management of financial risks. This is an increasingly important challenge given the greater variability in environmental conditions driven by climate change.

Story by Natalie Peoples
Natalie Peoples is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Natalie is currently a sophomore from Kensington, Maryland, pursuing a double major in journalism and environmental science. In addition to her work as a communications intern for the Institute for the Environment, she has experience in photojournalism and environmental research. Natalie plans to pursue a career in environmental journalism with a special interest in marine science.

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