Mitigate or Adapt – Climate Strategy for the Built Environment ?

2010-03-31:  Before the official announcement, in New York, of the independent InterAcademy Council (IAC) Review of the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … on 10th March 2010 … clear indications had been given, at meetings in the Institute of International and European Affairs (Dublin), that serious question marks hovered over the IPCC, its 2007 4th Assessment Report, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri’s position within the IPCC … the actions of many of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) who were at Copenhagen during the 2009 UNFCCC Climate Change Summit … and the Science of Climate Change itself (refer, for example, to revelations following the hacking of e-mails and other data from a server in the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in England, and the irregularities/errors in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report).

The 2009 Copenhagen Accord was a political agreement between a small number of Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, and Heads of Delegation – Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) and the USA – who attended the Climate Summit, which concluded on Saturday, 19th December.  At the time of writing, many countries have made voluntary submissions, i.e. they are not legally binding, to Appendices I and II of the Accord.

A general overview of the submissions made by Developed Countries, however, reveals the following about the Voluntary Emissions Targets being undertaken …

–   they are highly conditional on the performance of other countries ;

–   they are very disappointing, being far below what is required to cap the planetary temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius ;   and

–   there is no consistent emission base year … varying from 1990 and 1992, up to 2000 and 2005.

This is very far from being a signal of serious intent from Developed Countries … and is not … in any way, shape or manner … an acceptance of historical responsibilities.  It would be reasonable, therefore, to surmise that the process of achieving a global, legally binding, consensus agreement on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets will be long and difficult.  The Climate Change Mitigation Agenda is, to put it mildly, fraught with problems … and has an unclear future in the short term.

On the other hand, anyone involved in the design, construction, management or operation of the Built Environment must think ‘long-term’ … the minimum life cycle for a sustainable building should be at least 100 years.  Today in Dublin, buildings which are 250 or 350 years old still look remarkably good, and are well capable of fulfilling an important function within the social and economic environments of the city.  ‘Politically’ and ‘technically’, therefore, it would be more appropriate for the built environment if we were concerned with the Long-Term Climate Change Adaptation Agenda … rather than a problematic, short-term Mitigation Agenda.  But, in terms of a building … is there really a clear difference between measures undertaken for the purpose of mitigation and those undertaken for adaptation ?   For example, measures to incrementally improve energy efficiency and conserve energy, in accordance with short-term legally binding targets, will serve to mitigate CO2 emissions … but the same measures will also serve to adapt the building to rapidly dwindling supplies of climate-damaging fossil fuels.  The long-term perspective will exert pressure for more radical actions in the short-term.

But, should we not already be undertaking these sorts of measures as part of the Mainstream Sustainability Agenda … in order to increase building durability and prolong life cycle ?

Generally … Climate Change Adaptation encompasses urgent and immediate short, near and long-term actions at local, national, regional and international levels to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the local threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.

More specifically … Built Environment Climate Change Adaptation means reliably implementing policies, practices, projects and institutional reforms in the Built Environment … with the aim of reducing the adverse impacts and/or realizing the benefits directly/indirectly associated with climate change, including variability and extremes … in a manner which is compatible with Sustainable Human and Social Development.

Climate Change Adaptation is one of the most important drivers for Sustainable Design !




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