As the climate crisis deepens, it’s time to focus on adaptation

August 5, 2021, 10:49 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

This year has shaken my faith in the future, with climate change-linked wildfires and floods seemingly providing a preview of what we can expect, and with the ongoing lack of international coordination in the face of the pandemic suggesting we can’t expect much better on the environmental front. Every week brings more bad news—right now it’s blazes around the Mediterranean, blazes in carbon-offset forests (the symbolism!), new reasons to worry about the thawing of Siberian permafrost, and indications that the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow won’t produce the game-changing agreements we need. Phew!

Am I gloomy about this? Sometimes, sure—and I think that’s an eminently reasonable response at a time when serious scientific literature is appearing with titles such as “Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future.” (I found that one cited in another new paper that suggests we shouldn’t be talking about identifying “lifeboat” locations when civilizational collapse occurs within the next few decades, but rather “nodes of persisting complexity.” New Zealand’s the most promising candidate, apparently.)

But gloom will get us nowhere. While there’s not much we can do to prepare for the end of civilization as we know it, or for swaths of the world becoming unlivable due to humid heat, there are two courses of action we can and must follow right now.

The first is to try mitigating the damage as much as is humanly possible—with COP26 coming up in November, now’s the time for bold, necessary commitments and judiciously applied influence.

The second is to figure out how to adapt to the degradation that is already inevitable. According to World Trade Organization head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Patrick Verkooijen, the CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation, the key there is more open trade.

“As climate change intensifies, open trade will be essential to bring essential climate-adaptation goods and services to where they are needed,” they write in a new piece for Fortune. “International trade must start taking climate risk seriously, and this means investing in resilience now… More open trade would help accelerate the deployment of cutting-edge technologies for climate change adaptation and mitigation.”

The aim, they suggest, is to “lower the costs for all countries to get to net zero and adapt to a hotter world.”

The theme of adaptation is one both the corporate and political worlds will be focusing on much, much more in the coming years. Getting into that mindset certainly won’t be comfortable—it’s the “acceptance” stage in the Kübler-Ross model, and most people are still variously stuck in the earlier denial, anger and bargaining stages—but it is where we’re going.

As it happens, adaptability is something we as humans are pretty good at when we put our minds to it. And who knows, maybe our ingenuity and evolved capacity for survival can produce a future that’s not so ghastly after all.

News below.

David Meyer


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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