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Climate mitigation, adaptation or revolution?

June 05, 2019

By Ron Henry

What are the alternatives to climate mitigation or adaptation?

Since the early 2000s, there has been a revolving debate about how much investment is needed into either climate change mitigation (e.g. emission reductions) or adaptation planning (acclimatising to severe weather impacts).

UK national and local policy has continually struggled to keep up with the debate and the debate itself is not keeping up with the reality of unabated global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the UK, this discussion has lingered not least because of the cost of action on emissions mitigation and/or investing in adaptation to uncertain future scenarios. Internationally, some might argue that progress has stagnated with leading nations distancing themselves from their moral obligations, backtracking on previous agreements and in the extreme opting out of the debate altogether.

As an example, in the UK planning policy, it’s clear that action on greenhouse gas emission reduction is not a growth priority. We have seen reversals on policies relating to zero carbon homes to cut costs on growth, cuts to subsidies for clean energy to ease the costs on the price of energy, Government reneging on its carbon, capture and storage programme (because it cost too much) and limited action from local authorities in allocating sites for large scale renewable energy projects in their local plans.

Whilst the inclination is for local authorities to declare a climate change emergency, how many enforce their climate change policies and deliver the policies themselves in their projects?

Action on reducing climate impacts is falling on the shoulders of the construction, property and development industry and we are working with many of the leading businesses who are addressing this challenge head-on, for example by defining leading corporate policies to achieve zero-net carbon emissions across their business.

If this is the status quo in a mature market, is it right of us to assume new growing economies will happily shoulder the cost of reducing their emissions and are we headed towards continued unabated emissions? Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires strong leadership and changes in attitude from just rhetoric to real action.

The alternative to mitigation and adaptation: climate repair

Here at Stantec, over the last eight years we have been looking at alternatives to the debate of mitigation or adaptation. With the foresight that obtaining global unilateral action (not just agreement) on curbing greenhouse gas emissions is an enormous leap of faith, we believe that climate remediation and repair is going to be essential.

Stantec has been supporting the University of Oxford’s Institute for Geoengineering since 2010. The Institute continues to develop an academic understanding of technology interventions in removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

The need to move beyond mitigation and adaptation, to a more radical level of intervention, has now been recognised official at the University of Cambridge, with the newly opened Centre for Climate Repair (CCR). The CCR is headed by Professor Sir David King, who also was earlier involved in the Oxford Institution for Geoengineering and was also the Governments Chief Scientific Advisor from 2000 to 2007. This is a welcome move in bolstering the fight to redress climate impacts around the globe.

Just last week construction and property industry leaders formally made representation to Government, urging Government to adopt the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations for a UK 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. 

This weight of intellectual power in the UK, as well as others worldwide, has shown the debate on whether we invest in mitigation or adaptation has moved on. To achieve emission levels to keep below the aspirational 2 degrees by 2050 climate remediation, it is going to have to be mandatory. Indeed, this is something PBA have been calling for since 2016.

In making this a mandatory strategy within our national decarbonisation plans (and budgeting for the funding of this properly) we can learn from the last 20 years of climate change policy and lead the way internationally, creating a climate revolution.

We are at the heart of the challenge

Over the last 15 years, Stantec has been taking up the challenge of reducing our impacts on our weather systems.

Within our work and with our clients we recognise that innovation is critical to resolving the issues. With so many barriers to innovation, we invest our time working with various companies to bring forward meaningful carbon abatement technology. It is with this background that today, on World Environment Day, Stantec’s Young Consultants Forum have started developing a Vision for Development and Infrastructure Consultancy in 2040. Answering the question: how our business will be managing climate change in our work in 20 years’ time?

We recognise that the creation of a blueprint for climate change engineering needs to be led by those who will be delivering it.

With the support of business leaders across the company, our Young Consultants at Stantec are taking on and leading this challenge.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

  • Ron Henry

    One of the leading development and infrastructure consultants in the UK, Ron leads our Midland and East regions and has worked on land development, infrastructure, and other complex, multi-disciplinary projects.

    Contact Ron
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