Faced with climate change, humankind has long believed that, given its capacity for inventing and deploying solutions to limit GHG emissions, when the time comes it would equally be capable of implementing suitable adaptation solutions. However, it should firstly be noted that adaptation is not an alternative to attenuation – rather, the two are complementary. And secondly, some of the impacts of climate change that have often been predicted for 2030, 2050 or even 2100 are already here so we can no longer speak in the future tense.
Of course, reducing our GHG emissions remains a major issue if we want to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement aimed at limiting global warming(1). But adapting to climate change is imperative because it not only involves anticipating the impacts, but also reducing the vulnerability and exposure of regions, economic stakeholders and whole populations to climate unpredictability, as well as boosting resilience.
All segments of society have their part to play
In a report published last September, the Global Commission on Adaptation (2) identified five key sectors in need of urgent investment: developing early warning systems, installing robust infrastructure, improving agricultural production in arid regions, protecting mangrove forests and encouraging more resilient water resource management. All these proposals address the main effects already being felt throughout the world: food shortages (loss of harvests, decrease in yields), transport interruptions (river, rail, etc.), impacts on health (vector-borne tropical diseases, consequences of heat waves, etc.), drop in productivity (industry, construction, energy production, etc.), increasing scarcity of water and energy resources (leading to restrictions on their use).
Structuring our approach
Various local authorities are already adopting adaptation approaches. For example, an ADEME document highlights 33 approaches in three main areas: planning/infrastructure/buildings; ecosystems and natural resources; regional organisation and governance. The actions described range from factoring climate change into development planning through to rehabilitating peat bogs and relocating activities and property.
We are also seeing companies adopt parallel commitments. Some of these initiatives are visible (e.g. installing vegetated roofs and façades to recover rainwater, on-site deployment of alternative energy sources), which in turn contributes to improving staff awareness. Others are less visible, but no less important (e.g. drawing up a recovery plan in case of damage and identifying alternative supply chains).
In 2014, the French environmental think-tank EpE wrote: “Beyond the principle of precaution, working concurrently on adaptation and reduction of emissions would now seem to represent the basis of sound management” (3). Five years on, in the wake of several extreme weather incidents, perhaps one could add that accelerating this effort would be a wise approach? In any case, numerous recent publications on the subject follow this line of thinking (see “Read more”).
1) On this point, according to the latest estimations by the Global Carbon Project, global CO2 emissions have increased by 4% since 2015. This is moving in the opposite direction to the maximum limit of +2% by the end of the century laid down in the agreement.
2) The Global Commission on Adaptation, founded at the end of 2018 at the instigation of Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, last September launched “the Year of Actions” , focused on eight key areas: finance and investment, food security and rural livelihoods, nature-based solutions, water, cities, locally led action, infrastructure and disaster prevention. The Climate Adaptation Summit planned for October 2020 in Amsterdam will provide the opportunity for an initial progress review.
3) “Les entreprises et l’adaptation au changement climatique”, (“Companies and adaptation to climate change”) EpE and ONERC, April 2014. The photo on the report’s cover shows the Thames Barrier, a particularly emblematic structure for adaptation.