Local places must seize the opportunities of adaptation, or risk being left behind

The way places develop and grow are increasingly being linked to their climate resilience.

Ask anyone who works on climate change and they’ll tell you the jury is still out on whether we’ll really get a handle on tackling it. On the one hand we have the fantastic success of the Paris deal. On the other, the recent U.S. election throws doubt on how quickly the low carbon transition will take hold.

Even before the election, the political ambition was at odds with the reality. INDCs, the technical terminology for each countries’ emission reduction pledges, put us on a trajectory of around 2 and a half degrees whilst the EU thinks to get to the 1.5 degree target of warming, we’ll need negative emissions technologies.

It’s no surprise then, that the World Economic Forum highlight failure to adapt to climate change as one of their top ten risks of 2016. Whilst we really need to throw our shoulder into mitigation, everyone also needs to get going on adaptation. Fortunately, a quiet revolution has been underway. Over 400 cities and municipalities have signed up to the EU’s new Covenant of Mayors on Climate and Energy, which includes adaptation.

At the same time, markets and financial institutions have been considering how climate change will affect what they do. The world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock recently said that portfolios that consider climate risks outperform those that don’t. Similarly, two of the world’s largest credit ratings agencies, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s have begun accounting for resilience in their credit ratings. Alongside this, the European Investment Bank is increasingly interested in the climate resilience of its projects as part of it’s Climate Strategy. It already considers climate action in its appraisal, and is using its Technical Assistance programme to work with cities to define the gold standard.

When consensus starts to emerge around such issues, the ears of politicians and leaders should prick up. These institutions support places to develop and prosper, and to recover from extreme weather events. Getting a head start gives cities a competitive advantage. They can position and market themselves as places which are committed to being a better place to live, work and do business for the long term.

Much is written about the green economy’s prospects for jobs, investment and growth. But we mustn’t forget that other sectors drive a much greater proportion of GDP and economic prosperity. Scotland’s Economic Strategy seeks to create a more cohesive and resilient economy that improves the opportunities, life chances, and wellbeing of every citizen. Increasing competitiveness and tackling inequality are the two key pillars in this approach. Strong climate action can support both of these. Actions to adapt reduce costs and disruption to business. They can also build adaptive capacity in those groups who are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, supporting creation of a more equal society.

In the Glasgow City Region, supported by Scottish Government, we’ve been bringing partners together through our Climate Ready Clyde initiative. Our vision sets out how we’re planning to overcome the challenges climate change presents to the region, and position the City as a leader in adaptation. In turn this will provide confidence to the 1.8 million people who live and work in the region, (as well as for those who are considering doing so), that we’re preparing for the long-term. We’re building on what partners have already achieved, supported by the Adaptation Scotland programme. The programme helped Glasgow to become one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 resilient cities and to host the third European Conference on Climate Adaptation next year.

We’re not just understanding the risks and opportunities climate change will bring. We’re building institutional capacity to adapt and supporting politicians and decision makers take the decisions which make the City Region climate-ready. Some of these are significant. With sea level projected to rise nearly half a metre by the 2080s, rising water is already posing significant challenges to infrastructure and development sites earmarked around the Clyde. Signalling that we’re considering and responding to these risks provides reassurance to investors, in turn helping developing the region as a prosperous place.

The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and the weight of evidence on climate change mean that ignoring it won’t remain an option for much longer. Adaptation is fast becoming a moral necessity, as well as an economic one. Smart, forward thinking leaders have a window to get in front of the changes that are coming, and in doing so benefit from early action to protect the quality of lives of their citizens and the prosperity of their economies. Schemes such as CDP, the newly created Global Compact of Mayors on Climate and Energy, C40, and the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities programme can help them generate the evidence and momentum they need to show they are serious in building climate resilience. With so much at stake, why wait?

This post was originally featured on the Acclimatise Contributors Network