Climate Emergency: Europe is prepared to fight for change, but is it ready to adapt?Download a PDF of this article
While the world confronts the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, the climate emergency hasn’t gone away. Its consequences remain a firm fixture in global media headlines, from killer heat waves and floods to melting permafrost, often resulting in loss of life and property as well as disruptions to economic activity. Europe is at the forefront of the fight against climate change, focussed on decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, this is only one half of the challenge. Europe also needs to adapt to a changing climate and its consequences. Adaption requires a more climate-resilient society but are companies ready for what that could mean?
What is climate adaptation?
Whilst climate mitigation addresses the causes of climate change and aims at reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, climate adaptation addresses the impacts of climate change. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines it as ‘any adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities’. Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, scheduled to be held in Glasgow, in November 2021, lists adaptation and resilience as one of the areas requiring attention.
Are climate adaptation and mitigation complementary?
Whether mitigation and adaptation are complementary has previously been a source of tension in some circles. Policy discussions have focussed on whether too early an emphasis on adaptation would imply that the argument for mitigation is somehow being lost and that an emphasis on adaptation could even legitimise continued unabated emissions. A second argument is that with only limited resources available to tackle climate change, a greater focus on adaptation would come at the expense of some of the necessary investment needed in mitigation measures. These arguments are now outdated, given that inadequate action globally so far means that the importance of doing both, very quickly and at greater scale, is now making any choice between them insignificant compared to the overall need for greater urgency and action. Adaptation is clearly required given the pace of change and the dramatic impact climate change is having, in terms of sea level, weather patterns, agricultural practices, and the anticipated consequences in the coming years and decades.