The importance of adaptation

How do we survive the climate emergency?

Much of the debate, money and energy is focused on mitigation – preventing climate change, be that through renewable energy, carbon taxes or electric vehicles. But climate change is not just a problem for the future; its effects are already being felt around the world. Adapting to this new environment is just as important as mitigating further damage.

“Mitigation and adaptation need to go hand in hand. We can’t separate them, so have to do both at the same time,” says Stan Bronson, director of partnerships at the Stimson Center’s Alliance for a Climate Resilient Earth (ACRE). “Think of a bathtub that’s overflowing up with water. You’ve got to turn off the water, but you also need to get the mop to try and mop it up off the floor.”

Adaptation can take many forms, be that growing crops that can survive droughts and thrive in a changing climate, developing climate-resilient infrastructure, constructing flood defences, designing heat-reflecting buildings, leveraging big data to better predict the next extreme weather event or setting up early warning systems.

“The Earth is heating up. We are rapidly approaching 1.5C level, and it needs to be all hands on-deck,” Bronson says.

According to the Global Commission on Adaptation, every dollar spent on adaptation could be worth up to USD10 through avoiding losses (from, for example, flood damage), as well as via economic, social and environmental benefits.1

Mangrove forests, for example, protect 18 million people from coastal flooding and help avoid some USD80 billion of economic losses per year, but also act as “carbon sinks” and contribute to the economy across fisheries, forestry and recreation.

Man-made solutions are important too, not least when it comes to infrastructure. That includes protecting water and electricity supplies from weather-related disasters, as well as increasing the resilience of buildings to extreme heat, wind or rain. Retrofitting existing structures needs to go hand in hand with creating new ones.

“Engineering companies are under pressure to design things that are risk averse and resilient,” Bronson notes.  One of ACRE’s projects involves a partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers and other organisations to help promote rigorously resilient and sustainable infrastructure that will withstand the climate-related and other convergent threats that are likely to occur over the life cycle of the projects. The plan is for these to be adopted globally.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that USD140-300 billion will need to be spent on adaptation annually by 2030.2 The needs will rise to USD280-500 billion by 2050, as climate change consequences become more severe. Investment is most needed in agriculture, infrastructure and disaster risk management.

Private companies have a big role to play in closing that gap, and it’s in their own interests to do so, according to Bronson. “Quit talking, let’s do something. Time to put things into play that actually help the situation as opposed to wringing our hands,” he says.

About Stan Bronson

Stan Bronson serves as Director of Partnerships at the Alliance for a Climate Resilience Earth (ACRE), which is an initiative with The Stimson Center, one of the world’s most renowned think tanks in Washington DC. ACRE also runs the US-Netherlands Resilience Partnership (USNRP Pro) and the US-UK Resilience Forum, which brings teams of delegates to the Netherlands and to the UK to exchange knowledge with partners and colleagues who have globally acknowledged expertise in water infrastructure and management, especially as it relates to sea-level rise adaptation. Bronson has extensive experience in business and in education.

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