Even if we stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, climate change will continue to affect us and future generations, with some significant changes ‘locked in’. Future generations are also facing far smaller personal ‘carbon budgets’ due to current and historic emissions. In fact Climate activist Greta Thunberg says ‘You are stealing our future’ (December 2018). Subsequently, responding to climate change requires two approaches:

Mitigation – reducing and stabilising emissions released into the atmosphere and reducing concentrations in the atmosphere by enhancing carbon sinks (i.e. e.g. increasing areas of forests)

Adaptation - adapting to life in a changing climate – involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate. The goal is to reduce our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change (like sea-level encroachment, more intense extreme weather events or food insecurity). (NASA definitions)

As Sustainability practitioners we need to persuade people to reduce carbon emissions and help prepare for future climate impacts. Historically, climate policy focused on Climate Mitigation but we are experiencing the impacts of climate change now and increasingly we need adaptation approaches, as practitioners. As you will see the terms mitigation and adaptation are different practically and morally. For example, there are debates that adaptation without mitigation is immoral’. This blog explores climate impact through the lens of adaptation but readers will all make their own are encouraged to make their own moral and value judgements -- replies and perspectives are very much encouraged

Climate change is already impacting children, wildlife, and vulnerable populations, here and abroad. For example, South Louisiana is experiencing the effects of coastal erosion faster than almost anywhere in the world, losing a football field-size piece of land every 100 minutes. It is projected that by 2100, much of South Louisiana will be under water.

In 2016, it was widely reported that the US state of Louisiana received a $48 million federal grant from US States Department of Housing and Urban Development to resettle its residents due to flooding. This was the first time that federal money was spent to move an entire community. It also highlighted the challenges that lie ahead of displaced people who have become known as ‘climate refugees’. There are many different estimates for the number of future climate migrants and the truth is that’s it’s challenging to define and compare. However, the Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre produces annual estimates of the number of people displaced by disasters. They estimate that an average of almost 14 million people are at risk of displacement caused by extreme weather every year.

Photograph of Isle de Jean Charles road in Louisiana, US, which often floods, cutting off the community.

Closer to home, I watched the devastating Boxing day flooding unfold during 2015 in York, inundating over 500 homes. Shortly after, the 300-year-old bridge through the town of Tadcaster collapsed, with a dramatic video clip circulating on social media immediately. As I now know York floods nearly every year and for generations people have learned to cope with occasional flooding and have a wealth of knowledge about how to adapt. However, the Boxing flooding was exceptional and at the time, it was surreal watching abandoned properties, stranded cars, residents being rescued from their homes in boats and Chinook helicopters airlifting equipment to repair the Foss Barrier.

Photograph of York during 2015 flooding

The Climate Scientists have identified the major climate risks for the UK, include flooding, heatwaves, and droughts. There are many benefits in acting to adapt to the impacts of climate change whilst reducing the UK’s emissions to net zero. These include improvements to physical and mental health through increased green infrastructure, resilient homes with excellent indoor environmental quality, less noise thanks to active travel and healthier diets.

Recently there have been exciting climate policy developments with the UK government legislating for net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned this month that the Government must show it is serious about its legal obligations to tackle and prepare for climate change, in two new reports on reducing emissions and preparing for climate change impacts.

Historically, climate adaptation has been the poor relation of mitigation in climate policy. However, climate change is already impacting cities and communities and is changing our way of lives. By 2050, London’s weather could resemble that of Barcelona rather than Bognor Regis. Climate Impact is rising the political agenda with the school climate strikes, extinction rebellion protests and recent Attenborough documentary. Environment professionals are uniquely positioned to help governments, businesses and the third sector to both reduce emissions and prepare for climate impacts. Together we have the knowledge and expertise to empower cities and communities and persuade decision makers to act.

As the effects of climate change become more pronounced the likely result is public demanding and politicians scrambling to provide local adaptions. Setting net zero emissions targets are essential if we are going to globally meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement. However, the impacts of climate change are happening now and increasingly we must act to make cities more resilient so that we can respond to climate change.

If you would like to be more hands on, make a difference and get involved please join the IEMA Climate Change and Energy Network and share your ideas about climate adaptation and mitigation.

Further Resources:

Communicating climate impacts through adaptation, Climate Outreach

Progress in preparing for climate change – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament, UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament, UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

The Truth About Climate Change, Sir David Attenborough

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

About the Author

Clare is a CSR Manager and plant powered Chartered Environmentalist and Full Member of IEMA focusing her expertise in Climate Change and collaborating with stakeholders in ways that also benefit society.