Beyond carbon, towards collaboration: Thoughts from the 5th Global Forum on Urban Resilience & Adaptation in Bonn Germany

Rachel Armstead, Analyst

In the UK, the climate change narrative for businesses has been very much dominated by climate change mitigation – particularly with the mandatory greenhouse gas reporting regulations that came into force in 2013. For the public sector, while carbon accounting remains the cornerstone of much sustainability work there has increasingly been a focus on climate proofing and adaptation through infrastructure. Having spent three days immersed in an ideas exchange between a plethora of local authorities, climate change practitioners and urban development researchers from all over the world it became clear that there was a shift taking place away from the two tropes of mitigation and adaptation towards something more nuanced  – the concept of resilience.

Resilience as an urban development approach attempts to bring together the climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities of different stakeholders to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It aims to address the economic and social risks of climate change and develop solutions that not only minimise the negative impacts but also generate positive change for businesses and the wider community. The key to this approach? Collaboration.

Much climate change adaptation work is infrastructure-based and predominantly lead by local governments. However, on the ground it will be businesses and residents that will be required to embrace these changes – and they will be the ones to ultimately feel the impacts. Extreme weather events, energy price rises, overcrowding and so forth will impact on businesses as will the climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies developed by governments. Businesses therefore have a significant stake in how their urban areas are planned and developed to manage these risks.

On their own, businesses, particularly smaller businesses, will struggle to go beyond carbon accounting and internal resource efficiency plans. However working as a collective the opportunities grow exponentially. In London with LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) and BIDs (Business Improvement Districts), businesses are no longer passive residents of an area but are beginning to actively shape their boroughs through contribution to local economic and urban planning. In some respects businesses need to – and are already – taking on greater responsibilities for shaping the areas around them. But in order for this approach to work businesses and business groups now need to be armed with the tools to be able to contribute to these discussions and consultations within the context of climate change and understand their options; be these community solar projects or district heating to reduce reliance on centralised energy systems, travel planning and flexible working hours to respond to extreme weather events and overcrowding of public transport, or green infrastructure development to manage temperature and flood risks.

Through partnerships with universities, consultancies, businesses, communities and local government new strategies can be developed that help government support business in their responses to the risks and responsibilities that climate change brings, and in turn help businesses make an important contribution to the wider resilience of their cities. This is a new way of working and presents a step-change for all parties. However, speaking with local government leaders and businesses alike it was clear that not only would the outcomes be more than worth the effort in terms of minimising the risks of climate change to businesses and communities, but also that the process of collaboration itself would prove invaluable in opening up new opportunities for economic and social development within our cities.

The concluding line of one of the panel sessions sums up the approach well:

 “Resilience is not a destination, is a journey. It is about doing it all the time and all together”

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