Time for adaptation?

“The Glasgow COP is going to fail us,” writes Rupert Read in one of the essays in a new collection, Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change. Speaking at the launch of the book in Glasgow on 30 October, he shared some of his views on the measures that might constitute a successful COP, or a not-entirely-disastrous-one, at least.

In the article ‘Ten Tests for COP’ Tina Rothery and Rupert Read outline recommended measures including the restoration of natural biodiverse flood defences such as mangroves.

Read has contributed to the recent conversation on deep adaptation, a term coined by UK sustainability academic Jem Bendell in a 2018 paper, which at the time spread virally.

In an October article (“Ten Tests for COP”) in the Green Party publication Green World, Read contends that “defensive ‘incremental’ adaptation alone is no longer sufficient and is, in fact, counter productive, falsely encouraging us to believe that a mildly reformed version of the status quo can be retained.” What’s needed, he suggests, is a form of transformational adaptation, that “acknowledges the need for system change”.

The would include measures such as the restoration of natural biodiverse flood defences such as mangroves and wetlands, worldwide – requiring “unprecedented levels of funding”.

Other items on the list of “ten tests” include the cessation of fossil fuel exploration and discovery, although he said this was “incredibly unlikely”.

A huge transfer of funding and technology to the Global South is another measure deemed indispensable, and the annual $100 billion of funding promised at COP21 (in 2009) “must be delivered, and fast.”

Other essentials, Read suggested, included more stringent conditions on net zero schemes, only to use negative emissions technologies when no alternatives exist.

As far as the top-down response to the crisis is concerned, had he seen anything commensurate with the magnitude of the challenge to date?

The short answer was no. The problem he said, was that too much of the realistic discourse is “still happening in people’s heads or behind closed doors”. He recalled a conversation with the leader of a political party who had admitted to being “terrified.” It was even difficult to get plain speaking from the Greens, he said.

The failure of COP to satsfy any of the “ten tests” in Read’s view, will constitutes grounds for the public to be able to respond on 12 or 13 November to say “you failed us”.

It would also be a decisive moment to pivot to adaptation as the dominant strategy, he said.