As I write this column, I’m reflecting on the spectrum of weather I’ve witnessed this past winter.

From my office window in southwestern Ontario, I looked out onto snowy rooftops for maybe a week over the last several months. That’s contrasted with a recent trip to Nova Scotia, where a series of winter storms brought towering snowbanks and weeks of sub-zero temperatures in lieu of the region’s more temperate winter weather.

This past February was the warmest on record globally, according to the European Union’s climate monitoring service. Based on how often I’ve walked my dog while wearing just a light sweater this past winter, it’s hard to argue with that finding.

Read: How climate change is impacting benefits, employee health

Indeed, higher temperatures and changing weather patterns have wider implications and the role of climate change in shaping employee benefits is addressed in this month’s Benefits Update (page 30). Amid a longer and more destructive wildfire season in Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees is calling for improvements to wildland firefighters’ benefits, salaries, pensions and working conditions. However, the impact of extreme weather events isn’t limited to frontline workers, as they put all employees at risk of developing new health conditions or seeing existing health issues exacerbated.

Joey Raheb, chief commercial and broking officer for health solutions at Aon, is among the experts calling on employers to consider everything from how employees can access health care in emergencies to whether their health benefits adequately cover chronic conditions to programs that can strengthen plan members’ resilience and well-being. “Employers today are really looking at this as acute management. But what we’re talking about is how do you get employers ahead of this and . . . work on resilience.”

Environmental considerations are also at the heart of this month’s Investment Feature (page 22 ), which covers growing skepticism of environmental, social and governance factors in the U.S. and its impact on Canadian institutional investors. While such sentiment could have an indirect impact on Canadian investment organizations — such as U.S.-based general partners in private equity deals being constrained by local anti-ESG rules — it has yet to take hold in a meaningful way north of the 49th Parallel.

Read: How will growing anti-ESG sentiment in the U.S. impact Canadian institutional investors?

According to Dustyn Lanz, a senior advisor at ESG Global Advisors, “Canada’s investment landscape is not as politicized as the U.S., at least for now. That could change if politicians want it to, but in my opinion, it’s hard to see the upside of making a big spectacle of ESG.”

Beyond climate change, artificial intelligence remains a topic of perennial interest and discussion, including in the employee benefits sector.

The 2024 Group Benefits Providers Report (page 14) looks at how insurers are using the technology and while it has been around for some time, AI is having a moment due to its ease of use, says Tom Milne, independent consultant for Seven Studios.

“Things like ChatGPT are improving member communication and can relieve some [administrative duties] around answering basic questions. The other major opportunity related to benefits is crunching data. Benefits plans rely on data, whether it’s related to communication and . . . maintaining email lists when you get bounce-backs, for example. Administrators can focus on more of the problem solving or strategic tasks while AI helps with those mundane administrative tasks.”

Read: 2024 Group Benefits Providers Report: Leveraging AI to streamline benefits

While the challenges posed by climate change and artificial intelligence are immense, the pensions and benefits sectors are significantly prepared to overcome any obstacles and pounce on any opportunities that present themselves in an ever-changing world.

Blake Wolfe is the interim editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.