04/12/2016 12:07 GMT | Updated 04/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Climate Change: Should Adaptation Be The UK's New Tactic?

Barack Obama may have been our last realistic hope in a generation for action to slow climate change. He called the issue "not just the greatest environmental challenge [but] one of our greatest challenges of any kind" and made tackling C02 emissions his top environmental priority, both within the US and through international agreements. This matters because globally coordinated action between the main polluters is the only way to meaningfully slow man-made climate change.

Donald Trump has called the science of climate change "an expensive hoax", "created by and for the Chinese" and he has repeatedly said he will withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and other accords, while promoting the coal industry at home. Little wonder that a survey by YouGov and PLMR last week showed that just four percent of British people believe tackling climate change will be easier under President Trump.

What's more, voters are not prioritising climate change. In the UK Theresa May abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change, moving its functions into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - a clear demotion that went virtually unnoticed by the public.

Is it time, therefore, for the UK to prioritise climate change adaptation over climate change reduction? If there is little we can do to convince the main emitters to act, should we accept that temperatures will rise, and dedicate our resources towards flood barriers, resilient crop research, and medicines against tropical diseases?

The riposte to that thinking has been that even if a medium-sized country cannot influence climate change reduction on its own, it can benefit economically from being at the forefront of the green energy revolution. Countries that develop viable clean energy solutions would sell new power technology to the world, making profits and reducing carbon emissions in the process. Yet, sadly, it seems that in the main, green energy companies remain reliant on government subsidies - it is not yet a functioning marketplace. So should we just focus on climate change adaptation, not prevention?


Adaptation may seem tactically sensible at this point, but it is not a strategic solution. We should certainly prepare for weather events that will cause more flooding and drought at home, and that will disrupt our global food supply chain. But mitigation alone is not an intelligent policy.

Persistent, stubborn perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is one of humanity's finest qualities. We have been seeking to prevent war through over a century of international treaties. We have been trying to cure illness throughout our history as a species. And that spirit of persistence has paid off in some endeavours - after centuries of trying, we did achieve global and extra-planetary travel. We have finally eradicated smallpox. We have achieved legal (though certainly not economic) equality for women in many parts of the world.

We must look at climate change mitigation - all indicators are that we can expect more severe weather and warmer temperatures in the coming decades. But mitigation is no substitute for actually tackling the problem. Scientific endeavour and continued negotiation are not a waste, no matter how unresponsive the political environment may seem at present.