Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Climate Change: Mitigate, Adapt or Suffer

My former grad school professor, John Holdren, is working with the United Nations Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development. His task is to harness the best scientific minds to recommend options for addressing the threat of climate change.

Late last year, John gave a speech where he summarised the main choices available to us:
  • Mitigation - taking steps to cut our carbon emissions and reverse deforestation;
  • Adaptation - investing in flood protection, shifting agriculture and other measures to adjust to a changing environment; and
  • Suffering the consequence that we cannot otherwise avoid.
As Holdren points out, "We're already doing some mitigation, some adaptation, and some suffering...the question is what the future mix will be." You can see his entire presentation here.

Nicholas Stern has pointed out that mitigation provides the biggest bang for the buck - transitioning to a low-carbon economy would only cost 1-2% of global GDP. The advantage of mitigation is that it can keep us below a climate "tipping point", where we enter a runaway cycle of rising temperatures and emissions. So we can't just adapt our way out of the problem.

However, some adaptation will be inevitable as well - even if we could magically stop all our greenhouse gas emissions today, the temperature would still increase another 0.6 degrees C, thanks to all the extra heat stored in the oceans over the past century.

As a society, we have a choice of how much mitigation, adaption and suffering we will accept. Our job at Carbon Clear is to help companies and individuals make the right choice and take action.