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The Guterres Climate Summit will fail if we don’t take climate resilience seriously

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Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

We didn’t think that climate impacts would start to bite so quickly.

But they bite.

Really.

They are biting at our prosperity, our security and our patience to collectively work together on climate change. But climate resilience has been consistently undervalued at the international level. In this blog I give three reasons why this needs to change, and fast. 

1. Climate impacts are globalised

Whilst climate impacts are felt and experienced locally, they also reverberate far beyond their origin. In our globalised society, supply chains, markets, people, media and social networks ensure that what goes wrong in one place doesn’t stay in one place for long.

Take four examples:

2. Climate resilience is never (solely) local

There is a long-held assumption that adaptation is a solely local concern. There are of course localised decisions to make - where local government and people should be at the heart of decision-making – but these do not happen in a vacuum.

Let’s take the decision to install flood defences in a small coastal city. Here you could plausibly have all of the following actors: investors with international footprints, scientists from multiple jurisdictions, materials sourced from across the world, multinational companies and national, or sometimes international, decision-makers. What’s more, the consequences of this flood defence might have ripple effects on other regions, for example increasing or decreasing property prices, hitting the revenues of the companies involved or by diverting flood water elsewhere.

The truth is that adaptation is local, regional, national and international. It is necessary to ensure all our systems are incentivised to build resilience. Here the international community needs to begin identifying the entry points in institutions, financial networks and real economies to nurture the systemic changes which build climate resilience.

3. To maintain faith in mitigation

Mitigation has been - quite understandably - our first port of call for addressing climate change. But today mitigation is only half the solution. Reducing emissions does not immediately help a country deal with the climate impacts eroding their prosperity and stability. If the international community does not rebalance its mitigation heavy approach, faith in international cooperation on climate change will take a severe hit.

This time next year, UN Secretary General António Guterres will host his ‘Climate Summit’. His primary goal is to see leaders put more action on the table, committing to increasing their nationally determined mitigation contributions from 2020-30. However, if he is to succeed he needs to show that the international community are taking impacts seriously.

The international community needs to recognise that adaptation is a global concern. A concern that merits international efforts and systemic change. This means committing to bold steps which begin to overhaul our institutions, societies, supply chains and markets for a changing climate. Building on progress that’s been made in the UN Security Council and elsewhere, the UN itself will also need to do its part and outline the steps it will take to add capacity and strengthen its systems to make it fit for purpose in a climate changed world.