Back 24.01.2012

Mainstreaming climate change – the solutions are in the hands of all of us

It is time to demystify climate change and provide concrete tools for decision makers on all levels. There is an urgent need to understand the causes and links of climate risks and interlinkages between mitigation and adaptation. We can´t afford random action – sporadic climate mainstreaming will not take us there.

While the urgency to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is only partly reflected in the progress seen in international climate negotiations – most recently evidenced in Durban – the impacts and costs of climate change are increasingly visible in all societies. The latest climate science and, in particular, the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to be completed in 2013/2014, will undoubtedly provide a boost to the negotiations. However, what is urgently needed is concrete action on the ground to allow societies to mitigate as well as adapt efficiently and effectively. What does this mean in practice?

Demystify climate change and provide concrete tools for decision makers on all levels

As part of the required solutions, there is a strong need to demystify climate change, address the uncertainties and risks hands-on, and provide concrete tools for decision makers on all levels. An increasing amount of approaches and tools are available to private and public sector stakeholders. With these tools, they can integrate climate change considerations into their work, i.e. mainstream mitigation as well as adaptation aspects systematically into their strategies and everyday decision making.

The tools need to consider strategic, institutional as well as financial characteristics. They need to be tailored to cover all the key activities of the organization in question. Based on Gaia´s work with e.g. , and NGOs we can confirm that there is no need to reinvent wheels – just as long as the approaches and tools can effectively raise awareness and catalyze concrete action to manage climate challenges.

We are all decision makers

In practice, this means developing and applying approaches and tools:

i) to raise awareness of climate risks – politicians and companies will not respond unless the voters put the necessary pressure on these stakeholders, be it in the voting booths or in the supermarkets,

ii) to hands-on and systematically assess climate risks, i.e. to screen policies, programmes, projects and investments etc. for any potential risks caused by climate variability and change, and

iii) to manage the risks in a sustainable manner.

This requires the climate science community to more clearly communicate about the on-going and expected changes in climate – obviously informing about the uncertainties but not hiding behind it. It requires courage from the politicians to act upon this message, laying down clear long-term policies and thinking beyond the next elections. Politicians also need to request climate scientists, economists and social scientists to work more closely together and better explain what the true benefits of acting now are.

The private sector forerunners have already identified profit opportunities in pro-active climate action. Comprehensive climate policy signals and knowledgeable citizens will now have to push also rest of the private sector towards low- and no-zero carbon solutions.

We cannot afford random action – sporadic climate mainstreaming will not take us there

There is a need to understand the causes and links of climate risks in a comprehensive manner. This is required of both the public and private sector. The climate risks are transferred through production and consumption chains and felt on all levels of our societies. Contradictory and short-sighted policies hamper effective action on climate change in many cases.

Climate change is taking effect and impacting the performance of investments, depending among others on the type, location and time horizon of the investment. So far this impact on the financial bottom-line is insufficiently recognized and improperly taken into consideration, as also highlighted by the Carbon Disclosure Project (acting on behalf of 551 institutional investors, holding US$71 trillion in assets under management).

However, the business sector is showing signs of increased climate awareness, and guided with clear policies and supported with practical management tools, can become a key driver for the required mitigation and adaptation measures. Appraisal of climate risk and opportunities is penetrating business throughout the supply chain and becoming an increasingly important factor for business reputation and investor confidence. Early planning for climatic changes will also guarantee more climate resilient business sectors that are better positioned to take advantage of new opportunities in a growing international market.

Do not build unnecessary barriers between mitigation and adaptation – common sense makes sense

Finally, there is an urgent need to understand the interlinkages between mitigation and adaptation (as well as disaster risk reduction). It is needed to avoid any potential contradictions and, most importantly, to make use of identified synergies and opportunities between concrete mitigation and adaptation measures. This is essential for vulnerable societies with limited financial and human resources to cope with climate change. It is also equally urgent for businesses, aiming to manage their risks efficiently and looking for competitive advantages and ways to improve ensure the performance of their investments.

Mikko Halonen is a Climate and Development Expert at Gaia. Gaia provides comprehensive climate solutions for governments, companies, NGOs and international organizations. Gaia has a successful track record in climate mitigation through renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions, carbon footprint and management as well as analysis of energy systems and markets. Making use of its climate risk management tool (Gaia CliMan), Gaia has helped a variety of stakeholders to mainstream climate into their operations, by indentifying key climate risks and outlining sustainable adaptation measures and investments.