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Adaptation and mitigation are the two key pathways taken to address climate change.
Adaptation refers to actions taken to minimise the impacts of climate change across individual, local, organisational, and national levels. Essentially a ‘be prepared for the consequences’ approach, with a view to minimise vulnerability and increase resilience.
Mitigation on the other hand, refers to actions taken to actually reduce the potential impacts of climate change by influencing the level of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and/or enhancing carbon sinks – i.e. prevention, and tackling the root causes.
Both adaptation and mitigation strategies are significant and necessary. It is important to make the distinction between the two approaches – although the effects of climate change are already prevalent and adaptation measures are required, it is also something that we have the power to affect as much as we can in the future if enough action is taken now.
Adaptation measures include reinforcing structures for the effects of flooding, building flood defences, rainwater collection, insulation and air conditioning. Human attitudes and behaviour also plays a role here – studies have found that people are less likely to act if they have not directly been affected by climate-related events, or if they don’t consider themselves to be in a risk-prone area or situation. Education and raising awareness is also a key part of adaptation.
Mitigation comes in two forms – it can either involve limiting greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, or increasing the abundance of carbon sinks by planting more trees to absorb CO2. Many argue that it is cheaper to just adapt as and when events occur – however due to the uncertainty surrounding climate change, this is not the best option and will actually end up being more expensive. If mitigation is neglected, the potential impacts of climate change may only intensify, which will then just call for more and more adaptation strategies. This is not feasible in the long term and poses high risk. Therefore, it is key for mitigation efforts to occur at all levels.
On an organisational level, companies should start adopting more strategies to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions (which is already occurring on a wide scale). Committing to Science Based Targets is a good way to monitor emissions as this ties in with the wider global shift towards decarbonisation, in line with targets set at the Paris Agreement. Shifting to renewable energy where possible is another way of reducing carbon footprint. Identifying climate-related risks & opportunities is a step in the right direction in terms of paying heed to, and subsequently taking appropriate action to tackle the risks, which can essentially influence mitigation and adaptation at the business level. Opportunities can also be identified and necessary actions taken.
The ISO14001:2015 standard incorporates a new risks & opportunities section as part of the process. Although this is to tie in with the environmental management system itself, where organisations are to address them rather than implement any formal risk assessment process, it can still be used to help a business to manage potential risks & opportunities that may arise. It is advisable to start identifying and continually monitoring these, and implementing solutions to address those that may have a more significant impact as soon as possible. Opportunities should also be captured, which can have long term financial benefits to the business.
Climate change adaptation and mitigation therefore go hand-in-hand, and both should be integrated into business strategy.
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