My vision for transformational adaptation

In our most recent Blog, Board deputy member for West Dunbartonshire Council Adam Armour-Florence, sets out his thinking on what transformational adaptation looks like to him.

Transformational Adaptation

In his position as the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said in 2015:

“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change (…) Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.”

As an Environmental Geographer, I think this highlights how we should take urgent steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the inevitable impacts climate change currently poses on people and their unique cultural identities across the globe. These impacts will inevitably get worse, and those most negatively effected are those in poverty, most notably (but not limited to) living in the Global South.

With that in mind, what would be my vision of, ‘Transformational Adaptation’ for now and the future? Simplifying such a term arguably reduces it’s importance; but based on my experience in this sector over the last 10 years, this must involve radical climate action which fuses together the importance of global climate justice, empowerment, and in protecting the cultural heritage of societies – particularly for those less fortunate than the Global North.

Global Climate Justice and Heritage

Much discussion focusses on how greenhouse gas emissions are generated from human actions, but its important to highlight how the degree of responding to the risks, or adapting to the impacts of extreme weather events, are significantly influenced by the level of economic development. For example, both Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Sandy (2012) had significant impacts on the people, infrastructure and cultural and natural heritage of New Orleans and Haiti, causing billions of pounds in damage, killing some and leaving many others homeless.

Both events exemplified how places with higher levels of poverty (or lower levels of ‘development’) were more adversely effected by the impacts of climate change in comparison to places that are more developed and have the necessary infrastructure in place. Furthermore, it is clearly evident that the actions of the Global North in exacerbating the global climate, are having a far greater impact on the ability for the Global South to adapt and recover to climate change, including their ability to develop sustainably.

The Global South is experiencing higher frequencies and intensities of extreme weather events. Island and coastal nations are now being overwhelmed, as coral reefs—natural levees against flooding—are being destroyed by warmer ocean temperatures. Furthermore, vital elements of their physical cultural heritage – including heritage tourism sites where they rely on money from holidaymakers – are being impacted by various types, frequencies and rates of climate impacts.

Many people in these nations rely on their cultural and natural heritage to make a living and use it as a means of maintaining their dignity and identity.

My Vision for Transformational Adaptation

Global Vision

Transformational adaptation illustrates the importance of the Global North taking ownership for current and past environmental impacts. When this has been fully addressed, better relationships for the effective sharing of practices, technologies, policies and interventions, etc. must be built upon or formed to ensure that both the Global North and South learn from each others’ actions. We can learn from what is happening in some of these places, which can better inform our actions in light of the unavoidable impacts of climate change. This also means we must help support and empower these cultures and communities to adequately prepare and respond to these unavoidable impacts.

It is widely understood that climate change is largely caused by the actions of more economically developed nations, and yet it is people living in the Global South who are most directly and disproportionately impacted, with increasing frequency and intensity of weather events threatening life, and livelihoods. Therefore, radical action must be taken by all nations to support Climate Justice and protect the natural and cultural heritage of our neighbours in the south. This means that the lessons learned from partnerships such as Climate Ready Clyde (CRC) and other bodies across Scotland and Europe, can be shared with the Global South to empower them to take action against the inevitable impacts of climate change.

National Vision

In Scotland we must ensure that actions take into account our cultural and natural heritage, whilst also looking for ways to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society (e.g. the elderly, people with disabilities, people in poverty or who have underlying health issues, etc.) are protected from the impacts of climate change. By protecting and improving our greenspaces and our cultural and natural heritage, we strengthen our cultural identity and foster better enjoyment of the outdoors, improving our overall health and wellbeing, particularly for the most vulnerable of our society. Historic buildings and landscapes form part of who we are and encourages enjoyment of Scotland as a whole, particularly for our tourism industry and relationship with other countries. Therefore, by ensuring that transformational adaptation integrates social justice principles with Scotland’s cultural and natural heritage, we can build a resilient Scotland that is inclusive to the most vulnerable in society, but also protects our cultural and natural identity for the future.

Disclaimer: Adam Armour-Florence is Climate Change Officer for West Dunbartonshire Council. However, the views represented in this blog are solely his own, as part of the Climate Ready Clyde initiative. Nothing contained in this blog should be taken as representing a formal position of West Dunbartonshire Council.

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