Smart business, smart governance: combined adaptation and mitigation

Smart business, smart governance: combined adaptation and mitigation

By Keane Gruending

June 26, 2013

Whether you’re a government, a business, or an energy producer, emissions reductions can lead to several layers of benefits. This post will explore existing rationale for cutting greenhouse gases and propose that by combining adaptation and mitigation, another layer of climate action benefits can be achieved.

At the core of it, emissions mitigation will reduce the future impacts of climate change. However, these benefits are global in nature and could take decades to manifest.

As an initial step, many organizations and planners have focused on the co-benefits of reducing emissions, most predominantly the savings associated with energy and resource efficiency as well as the tangible health benefits provided by clean air. While these are laudable actions, I believe that organizations and governments have hit a wall where further emissions reductions are not being pursued. Until resource (including energy) inputs and waste outputs are accurately priced by the market, there is a limit to the business case for mitigation. The low hanging fruit has already been picked in terms of energy efficiency.

The next layers of benefits provided by emissions reductions are rooted in risk management: preparedness for inevitable greenhouse gas regulation and supply chain diversification. Provincial, national, and international regimes like the BC carbon tax, federal vehicle fuel efficiency standards, or any number of proposed border carbon tax adjustments have the potential to make carbon emissions an operational liability. Furthermore, industries and municipalities reliant on high-carbon inputs, like coal-fired electricity or treated water, are vulnerable to supply shocks as upstream suppliers are regulated or switch to non-substitutable alternatives. Emissions reductions can help to reduce regulatory and supply chain risks.

Since emissions mitigation generates a public good and is viewed as the “right thing to do”, carbon reductions can provide another layer of benefits.  In an era of environmentally-savvy citizens, lobby groups and shareholders, regions and businesses that enact forward-thinking emissions strategies can receive a positive and significant boost to their reputation.

While emissions mitigation provides a number of benefits including resource savings, risk management, and reputation enhancement, a final layer of benefits can be derived by combining adaptation and mitigation. Despite ambitious emissions cuts, the near and medium term effects of climate change are unavoidable and adaptation measures are required to cope with the physical effects of global climate change. Adaptation builds resilience to extreme weather, environmental change, and resource scarcity such as drought. While mitigation is future orientated and provides global benefits, adaptation is “here and now” and provides local benefits.

From the perspective of a municipality or business it would seem that adaptation and mitigation are seemingly unrelated. However, there are synergies between the two that, when pursued, can provide climate action benefits. 

The classic example of combined adaptation and mitigation is the planting of trees in urban areas. A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture concluded that US urban forests sequester over 640 million tonnes of CO2, providing an ecosystem service valued at over $50 billion. Trees also provide shade, reduce the energy and air conditioning requirements of buildings, and can safeguard against extreme weather. These are important adaptation measures.

Through the introduction of renewable power sources, an industry or utility can help to both mitigate emissions and diversify its energy supply. The generation and distribution of conventional energy supplies like hydropower and coal are vulnerable to water shortages and heat extremes. Therefore, the inclusion of locally generated wind, solar, and biomass energy sources can hedge against future climate impacts.

Combined adaptation and mitigation can also be achieved through enhanced building and construction techniques. Building standards like LEED GOLD employ energy efficiency and weatherization technologies that lead to smaller carbon footprints. From an adaptation perspective, these buildings are less dependent on grid-fed power, more resistant to extreme weather, and have reduced cooling requirements compared to conventional buildings. Furthermore, design choices made for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, have the potential to shape transportation related greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, we are just beginning to understand how a changing climate, like sea level rise and storm intensity, will impact the safety and security of our road and bridge stocks.

Planning decisions that combine adaptation and mitigation can pay dividends, adding another layer of benefits to proactive climate action.

(Icon photo courtesy of iwillbehomesoon/Flickr)

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