While the conversation about climate change has been dominated by mitigation, what is equally crucial is the need to adapt to the unavoidable changes already on their way. “We have absolutely no choice but to learn to adapt to a future with a very different climate,” says environmental consultancy Climate Sense. “It is imperative organisations act now.” By HELEN COMPSON.
For 20 years now, the experts behind environmental consultancy Climate Sense have been driving the subject of adaptation to climate change up the political agenda.
It is no small measure of their success that this year, in Glasgow, Climate Sense director and technical lead Prof. John Dora is developing related sessions for COP26 in partnership with the University of Birmingham, the Strengthening Infrastructure Risk Management in the Atlantic (SIRMA) Project and the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties will also be the first COP to boast a Resilience Hub, dedicated specifically to the prerequisites of adapting to climate change.
Eighteen years ago, it was an entirely different story, says Doogie Black, director and lead analyst at Climate Sense. Back then, organisations simply didn’t grasp the onus on them to act responsibly and act now!
Tasked, in an EU-funded post, with raising awareness about the need to prepare for the impact of a future climate that will be more severe than the one we have, Doogie faced an uphill struggle in 2003.
Until very recently, any talk about climate change has tended to be about mitigation – the need to reduce carbon emissions and to preserve/bolster the carbon sequestration potential of our forests and peat bogs.
Few have considered the other side of the equation. Doogie said: “Even if we managed to stop all emissions right now, the repercussions of the damage we have already done will continue for at least another 30 years, and there’s no chance of us stopping that.”
In his determination to open up the conversation and to get individuals and organisations alike to step up to the plate, he began studying human behaviour in the process of decision-making.
What would make people accept and address the need for adaptation, he wanted to know. And what type of support would encourage them to embed adaptation to climate change in their decision-making?
The five years of EU funding he received gave him the opportunity to engage with some of the “biggest brains in the world” to propel adaptation into European consciousness.
By the time he started up his own consultancy in 2008, Doogie himself was a leading expert on behaviour change and adaptive capacity.
A key member of the team that developed the Capacity Diagnosis & Development framework, rated as being the most effective method in the field, he has since applied the framework to assessing more than 2000 public, private and civil society organisations all over the world.
But in the beginning, his primary function was one of education. “I was going out looking at the adaptive capacity of organisations, their people and their systems. I had developed the software and the metrics to do that, so I thought I had the best consultancy in the world, because everyone needs this,” he laughed.
“But then I realised nobody knew they needed it. At that time, there was still a lot of argument going on about whether climate change was natural or human-induced.
“It’s a different world today. Slowly people are coming to understand that we are talking about the adaptation efforts required for the human race to survive. People are prepared to have that conversation today.”
Since 2017, Doogie has been a member of the British Standards Institute’s Adaptation to Change Committee, the national body responsible for ensuring the matter is fully incorporated into UK and, where possible, European and International standards.
In 2019, he and John Dora launched Climate Sense. The two had met while drafting ISO14090, the first ever international standard on adaptation to climate change.
Indeed, John, the global lead for adaptation for the International Standards Organisation, chaired the international working group concerned. A world-class authority on infrastructure and adaptation, his clients have included the World Bank, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and CEN/CENELEC, the European standards organisations.
Doogie, meanwhile, the Principal UK Expert in the writing of ISO14090, has been appointed by the European Commission to write guidance on how to embed adaptation to climate change within new and existing European Infrastructure Standards (through CEN-CENELEC), and by the German Environment Agency to research and make recommendations on best practice in standardisation across Europe.
The Climate Sense team as a whole continues to promote, educate and encourage in relation to the responsibility of organisations to do the right thing. “In the UK as far back as 2006, the Stern review of the economics of climate change showed that it was much more cost-effective to act on adaptation sooner rather than later,” said Doogie.
“A lot of decisions we make today have ramifications that will last well into the future.
“Take the built environment. A bridge or dam or school or hospital might have a design life of 40 years, but it will probably sit there for well over a 100 years and yet planning permission is still being given for building to take place on flood plains without any consideration for the flooding of the future.
“Organisations and institutions are starting to recognise that they need to make better decisions today if they and the outcomes of what they do are to survive.”
This month, Climate Sense added a new weapon to its arsenal in the form of an NVQ course entitled Adaptation to Climate Change.
Developed and rolled out in partnership with L&DA, well-established providers of education, qualifications and assessment of competence in the water industry, the course is designed to teach people how to build resilience and sustainability in an organisation.
Participants learn how to measure and develop the adaptive capacity of their organisation, their people and their systems and how to ensure adaptation to climate change is embedded in decision-making processes in the most constructive way.