mitigation of institutional adaptation

Glasgow University has a sustainable development network – a recent public talk was unmissable, but the audience was far too small given the significance of the matter. Hence this blog posting.

From the blurb:

“Speaker: Professor Sir John Lawton, CBE, FRS (Chairman Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, RCEP)

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s recent report explores the challenges facing UK institutions as they respond to climate change. Adaptation is not an alternative to mitigation; even if CO2 emissions were to stop tomorrow, significant climate change is inevitable, and the less successful we are at mitigation, the bigger the challenges of adaption. These challenges include considerable uncertainty about the magnitude and rates of climate change in different parts of the UK; recognising that adaptation will need to be an ongoing process, not a single action; and a willingness to incorporate an adaptation test into all major decisions.”

You can download a copy of the report:

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is about to be ‘burnt’ in the quango bonfire. Professor Sir John Lawton is the chair – his delivery was expert, encouraging, humorous, inspiring and very worrying. These are points he made, that add to what you can read in the report.

I believe this is the gist of what he said  – please alert me to any misunderstandings if you were there.

After March, the government will not have an expert body to advise on environmental pollution. Because it has been disbanded, John Lawton no longer expects written ministerial responses to the RCEP report – which would otherwise have been necessary.

Climategate has done damage to the process of adaptation. In UK, 30% of the public do not believe. In US, 50%. (Possibly UK is not as bad as US because UK laws inhibit the publication of untruths in the media. Mostly people receive info from the media. In the media, climate deniers have not been subject to the same scrutiny of sources. It is absurd to cast climate science as a conspiracy to invent a problem. Science is organised scepticism. The evidence is irrefutable.

While many industries have not got hold of adaptation, tellingly, the insurance industry is right ahead of the game.

There has been progress with the Climate Change legislation in UK Parliament – and better in Scotland. But far from enough. At least in Scotland and greater London, there is a duty in law on public agencies. Elsewhere it is voluntary. Land use planning is central, and needs resourcing. There is some progress in Scotland (though it’s efficacy was questioned from the floor). At least in Scotland, the government departmens have the possibiity of talking to each other, impossibly big and divided in London.

The RCEP committee worked on principles of successful adaptation. It is more complex by far than mitigation. It must be done locally, flexibly to situations. It requires thinking of a range of probabilities. There is no endpoint. It requires working with many different interests and organisations. For example the interest groups in a coastal area are numerous – a spaghetti of committees.

What is adaptive capacity? framing, learning, implementation.

Local projections test climate science the most. Hampshire County Council is one of the more switched on. How nice! A climate like Bordeaux, it learnt from the climate projections. It also learnt the chalk streams will dry up and the beech woods will die by 2080. Less nice. Details, Sir John Lawton suggested assist public engagement.

The Thames Estuary 2100 is unusual – an innovative response, asking the right questions. Prioritising flexiblity, and community consultation.

Loss of coastal land in the south east poses serious issues of social justice. Currently compensation is on the basis of property ownership. What if you rent? What if you lose business interest or family connections? The commission visited Happisburgh in Norfolk, which will not be protected by public resources and is fast disappearing, and found these issues becoming apparent there, with various responses from residents.

The above came from John Lawton’s talk.  As a postscript, I have been part of a lobby of my MP about public agencies duties in resposne to climate change. The particular question was about how the NHS was curbing it’s carbon emissions in line with recent legislation. My MP passed this query on to Andrew Lansley, and we got his response this morning, restating this is the Greenest Government ever. Note this: “Following the recent White Paper Equity and Excellence […] the NHS in England will be freed from political micromanagement and will be responsible at local level for taking appropriate  measures to improve the health service, including carbon performance.” Our question was how carbon emission reduction would be ensured. It seems it won’t be.

I feel that governmental hands are being washed, of responsibility for adaptation, mitigation too.

PS A report on dismantling of the RCEP on

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