Build Back Better: Why Climate Mitigation Won’t Do


Resilience is defined as our ability to ‘recover’ but not necessarily to go back to how things were before. It’s an important distinction to make. In tackling the current coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis, we cannot go back to the world as it was before. That world has gone.

For this reason, building back better must involve not only climate change mitigation but also adaptation. The latter is still poorly understood and often confused with the former.

According to IPCC definitions, mitigation is the human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Examples of mitigation strategies are retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient; adopting renewable energy sources like solar, wind and small hydro; helping cities develop more sustainable transport such as bus rapid transit, electric vehicles, and biofuels; and promoting more sustainable uses of land and forests.

Adaptation is the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects. Accordingly, adaptation strategies are different and would include using scarce water resources more efficiently; adapting building codes to future climate conditions and extreme weather events; building flood defences and raising the levels of sea walls; developing drought-tolerant crops; choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires; setting aside land corridors to help species migrate.

Although there is some overlap between the two, adaptation is not so much about the climate and the environment as it is about how we adapt as a society and change the way we live. Adaptation is intensely place-based and is focused on establishing more resilient communities and protecting the more vulnerable in our society.

Mitigation measures alone will not achieve climate safety. We build back better if we also implement adaption measures for our climate-altered world.

Thanks to @PublicPractice for the illustration.

Originally published on LinkedIn on May 29th, 2020.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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