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An uncertain future
Climate South East is not a traditional green organisation, insists coordinator Kristen Guida. Rather than seek ways to reduce carbon emissions, which is the focus of innumerable environmental projects, CSE wants to help businesses adapt to the challenges of climate change.
“It started about 12 years ago,” she says. “A lot of organisations were starting to deal with environmental issues and carbon reduction and there was a lot of evidence coming to light that even if we stopped all carbon emissions immediately there would still be some climate change because of past emissions built into the system.”
In the South East, various interested groups commissioned a report to find out what those impacts might be for sectors such as business, tourism and biodiversity.
Kristen says: “It was about trying to think, ‘Now we’ve started to do some of the damage, how would that affect us?’ – things like increased storminess, heatwaves, warmer winters, wetter summers.”
From that initial report, Climate South East was formed and over the years has continued to focus on supporting organisations to understand what the potential impacts of climate change are for them and helping them to work out ways of addressing them, such as the combined impacts of hotter summers and water scarcity on tourism, or a decrease in food security and broken supply chains for catering businesses. For the past three years, the organisation was funded by Defra, thanks to a national requirement for all local authorities to look at adaptation to climate change. However, the Coalition Government scrapped the necessity for any kind of local adaptation plan. Kristen says it is a great frustration, since many authorities had recognised that climate risk planning isn’t an additional bonus but an important part of long-term decision and policy making.
She says: “There had been a lot of progress made over the past three years but then the work just stopped. It’s been a bit of scramble to make sure we can collect the good stuff and that it’s not lost.
It’s a big challenge. A lot of local authority officers say they had a great programme but have no justification for working on it now because budget cuts have meant so much scaling back.”
Since the change, CSE has linked up with other regional climate partnerships to form a national group, Climate UK, in an effort to keep alive a lot of the knowledge gained .
While the adaptation agenda is different to the more commonly known efforts at mitigation, there are undeniably links between the two, and planning for adaptation is as vital as emission reduction.
Kristen says: “It’s unbelievably important that we don’t think of it as giving up. Anyone who takes climate change seriously knows it’s absolutely urgent we reduce emissions but because of the damage already done we have to adapt. The people who will be most vulnerable are already the people most vulnerable in society.”
Ultimately, it comes down to the great British pastime of talking about weather and how it’s going to change.
“We already aren’t prepared for the weather we do have,” Kristen says. “Snow and floods are a problem, the 2003 heatwave killed between 30,000 and 70,000 people in Europe. We need to look to the future and realise we have to live with the consequences of any decision we make now for a very long time.”
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