A Sense of Urgency and Optimism in Cancun

December 3, 2010
  • Joyce Wong

    Former Associate, BSR

While the call to curb global carbon emissions remains strong, the voices of climate scientists, vulnerable nations, organizations working in those countries, and even an impassioned youth movement to mobilize committed funds to start implementing measures now to prepare for the challenges of living in a warmer world are getting louder. As expectations for progress toward a binding global agreement seem to be on pause, the conversation and the science have turned to assess the potential of the voluntary Copenhagen Accord to put us on track to avert a more than 2°C increase that would lead the way, experts say, to an irreversibly different planet.

A week before the start of the annual climate conference, the United Nations Environment Programme released a preliminary assessment of the progress we have made in the last 12 months, which examines the gap between our present and future emissions and the emerging scientific reality. In short, the report finds that even if all country signatories achieved their most ambitious emissions reductions targets, there would still be a gap of 5 gigatons needed to avoid an increase of more than 2°C—the equivalent of emissions from all of the world’s cars, buses, and trucks in 2005. In light of these findings, and in the absence of assured aggressive emissions reductions, adapting to climate change is becoming less a question of why and more a question of how.

Perhaps because climate adaptation is sometimes ambiguous as a concept and action, as a recent article in the Economist suggests, it has been more challenging and less readily addressed by governments and businesses. Broadly speaking, climate adaptation means reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and increasing resiliency. For businesses, it means a shift in planning and preparing for risks and opportunities in a climate of unpredictability. Here in Cancun, side events and discussions provide a more tangible picture of what adaptation priorities, needs, and actions look like:

  • Extreme water: Many see the real threat of climate change as the impact on water resources. (With water-risk reporting trends following the heels of climate-risk reporting, this is likely unsurprising news.) Experts emphasize the need for improved monitoring and management of water resources, with clear opportunity for providing better information, efficient infrastructure, and stronger institutions.
  • Food security: Changing temperatures, volatile weather patterns, and declining water availability will affect the ability to grow and even increase food crop production to sustain a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Many international agriculture and development experts and organizations are discussing and sharing strategies, best practices, and challenges to strengthen climate-friendly agriculture and food security.
  • Disaster risk reduction and preparedness: One thing that recent devastating floods, droughts, fires, and hurricanes have shown us is that, while we may not be able to predict the future, there is at least room to better prepare for it. There are emerging examples of partnerships that allow relief organizations to increase their preparedness for disasters before they occur.


    The above are just a few highlights of the cross-cutting issues that affect, directly or indirectly, all individuals and global businesses that depend on natural and human resources. Underlying these impacts are both a sense of urgency and growing appetite/invitation for more continuous and open collaboration among information producers (such as NASA and the World Meteorological Organization) and users (from farmers to policy makers), strengthened and better utilized networks, and encouraging examples of this already happening. There are, of course, some clear opportunities for business to lead the way in developing and enabling innovative solutions, which we’ll cover in greater depth in our forthcoming series of industry briefs in early 2011.

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