C40 Voices: Kathryn Vines, Climate Risk Assessment Network Director

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are inextricably linked and must be pursued with equal urgency.

This month has seen two extensive reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) covering, in turn, the topics of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Those who argue against action to reduce our dependency on hydro-carbons have fuelled the perception in the popular press that we can choose between these two spheres of action – preventing climate change through carbon emissions reductions on the one hand, or adapting to its impacts on the other. Most notably, it seems, an idea has taken root that we can simply adapt to the changes in store for us, and therefore needn’t go to great lengths to agree or implement global emissions reductions.

This notion is false – recklessly so. It is true that we must adapt.  Climate change adaptation is required to manage and minimize the risks that result from rising global temperatures, such as sea level rise, and changes to intensity and frequency of storm surges, heat waves or drought. The global community has made the assessment that we can only “safely” adapt to climate change if we constrain average global temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.

The truth is beyond a 2 degree temperature rise, we don’t know if there is capacity for humanity and our environment to adapt. But we do know that it will be much harder, and that cutting emissions will reduce global warming and its impacts. Therefore, mitigation is one of the most reliable “tools” in the adaptation toolbox. There is also the matter of cost. British Economist Lord Stern argued most cogently that the future cost of inaction on cutting emissions (e.g. the devastation of powerful storms, the need for sea walls to protect our cities) far outweigh that of taking action today to build a low carbon economy.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are inextricably linked and must be pursued with equal urgency. C40 cities get it -- and are leading the way on both fronts. In C40’s recent survey, 98% of C40 cities said climate change presents a significant risk to their city, and more than 80% are allocating funding and staff towards this area. 

C40’s Climate Risk Assessment Network is helping cities to exchange best practices in understanding and prioritizing risk and planning investment to build more resilient cities. Our Cool Cities and Sustainable Urban Development Networks are also catalyzing action at the intersection of adaptation and mitigation – for example through encouraging green roofs that both protect against increasing temperatures, and reduce energy consumption.  C40 cities have already delivered more than 2,000 thousand actions in these areas -- and with support from C40, will continue to pursue both mitigation and adaption to create resilient cities and a less risky climate future.