Column SDG 11: Cities SDG 12: Commerce SDG 9: Infrastructure

Welcome to the Climate Resilience Economy

Trump's June 1, 2017, decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement had one positive unintended consequence

The Entry

I first posted this column in LinkedIn, 1 June 2017, the day, you’ll recall, when President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Today, the country is the only one in the world not to join, or to be technically correct, that intends to pull out, though we’re already out for all practical purposes. The focus below, though, is not the decision itself, but the sole silver lining we can draw from it, one that has turned far more important since.

The Climate Resilience Economy is now THE game in town. This blog has been launched to help accelerate it. And it is within that context that we should see the Trump decision.


The Story

I cried tears of pain four hours ago, as countless many are reported to have done all across our endangered planet, the minute Donald Trump announced America’s _______________ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. (What adjective would you use to fill that blank?)

But then I gathered myself. In the weeks leading up to the decision, I went back to some of the articles I have written — in LinkedIn, Medium, Google+ and elsewhere — starting on the aftermath of the Copenhagen debacle December 2009, when UN climate talks stalled unexpectedly.

It would take six very long years for 197 countries to finally agree, December 2015, to keep global temperatures from rising past 1.5ºC above the millennial average. The goal used to be 2º, but so terrifying has recent science been that the world thought better of it and chose to play it safer.

I had followed the small but fast-growing number of folks warning that Copenhagen might very well be the last chance we had to hold to 2ºC. The UN would go at it again every year, bless their souls, and every year inaction would sink the world into greater disappointment and even deeper concern, as the scientific signposts worsened by the month and it became clear that those early observers had been right.

As 2015 closed in on the signing of the final accord in Paris, the news got out: The very best the agreement will achieve is 3.5C, give or take 0.2 or so. The deal was signed, but the road to that day was so torturous, the unwillingness of so many countries — Obama’s U.S. included — to make it legally binding so troubling, that only voluntary commitments were forthcoming, a full two degrees above the limit needed.

It’s been a year and a half since, a year and a half of further climate science telling us we have even less time between now and 1.5ºC and 2ºC than anyone anticipated — the latest count places 1.5ºC at around 2030 — and even accounting for China’s and India’s surprising record pace and Obama’s full-court press, the world is hardly making a dent on that two-degree gap up to 3.5ºC.

And now this. And now Trump. The reasons to fear and prepare for a post 1.5ºC world are boundless. Google “beyond 2 degrees” and review the science. The coming climate catastrophe is truly monstrous, and we’ve known of its certainty for some years now. So it’s not that the planet would have been safe had the U.S. stayed in.

But the damage of pulling out is nonetheless huge, on at least three fronts, as has been widely reported: it slows and in some areas hurts the unprecedented speed of the green economy and job creation in this country; there are clear signs other countries will weaken their own voluntary commitments and might even pull out, as well; and it will have incalculable consequences for American standing and leadership abroad, with even our closest allies less cooperative across the gamut of our national interests.

‘Resilience Dividend’

That said, there is one positive result sure to come from this shame. It is an angle no one seems to be reporting much at all, which given the story’s obvious nature, suggests you’ll be hearing far more about it in the months and years to come, since the Trump decision will only serve to draw more attention to it. (That’s the sole benefit!)

With the boiling worry over the 1.5ºC and 2ºC climate reality among companies and local governments across the country, and more so around the world, a growing number have spent months and in some cases years taking serious steps to become resilient in the face of climate impacts now sure to hit them hard in coming years, with 2030 so near.

The amounts are yet unclear, but what we do know is that billions of dollars are being invested, fevereshly in such stand-out places as New York City and Denmark, on adaptation measures to safeguard people and assets from the looming relentless wave of storms, droughts, forest fires, sea level rise, urban heat and more.

Did you notice all those multinational corporations pressuring Trump not to exit Paris? Well, take a look at CERES, the group representing trillions of dollars of investment pressure spearheading what is now being called the Climate Resilience Economy.

Several landmark reports by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate project upwards of $100 trillion in related global investments leading up to the critical 2030 timeframe, the bulk in adaptation measures by companies and governments. ONE HUNDRED TRILLION DOLLARS.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin calls it the Resilience Dividend in her recent book by that name, and it is HUGE.

Want to learn more? Google “resilience initiatives” and behold. This, my friends, is the immediate and near-term future of the U.S. and global economy at every level, and today, it received a ginormous boost, unsuspectedly, from one Donald J. Trump.

So as horrific an act as he committed today, if it contributes to the rapid acceleration and global scaling of the Climate Resilience Economy, as it surely will, we shall at the very least benefit to that important extent.

Business in the Anti-Normal

If you’re a company that offers an adaptation solution, your time has come to shine. If you’re a sociopreneur looking for a segment to make your mark, none will grow faster or be more mission-critical than this one, so get in NOW.

I published this story in Medium a month before the Paris Agreement outlining some of the industries certain to win. There’s the obvious — infrastructure and indoor urban food (like the solution pictured above), to name but two — and the less evident, like such human-sustenance services as healthcare and education, which will be severely tested and will demand resilience solutions.

The list of adaptation industries and segments is… loooong.

I’ll be writing more about them in the weeks and months ahead. I suspect, again, and hope that the field of like-minded chroniclers will become increasingly crowded, as it dawns on business journalists that this is, indeed, the way forward. It’ll be all about digitalization AND adaptation, including the overlap of the two.

Decarbonization? Oh sure, that will continue, unfazed, and it must — no longer to prevent 1.5ºC or 2ºC, since the clock is about to expire on that mitigation goal, but to keep us ultimately in the 3ºC range and avoid even more catastrophic consequences. As bad as the 2ºC-3ºC world will be, beyond 3ºC…well, let’s not even contemplate that yet. Let’s just continue decarbonizing like crazy.

And adapting, to protect from the impacts coming without fail. There is no way to know exactly how much protection all those investments and solutions will buy us. Climate change past 1.5ºC will be inherently unpredictable. I call it the New Anti-Normal, since the disruption due to begin in the 2030s will not allow us to settle into any normalcy at all.

But we can be certain that the adaptation path from here to there will drive the economy here and everywhere.

Long-time green-economy and business journalist, sustainability analyst and communications executive, including 14 years as reporter and editor of Caribbean Business in Puerto Rico, five years as Sustainability Director at two banks on the island, general manager of a green marketing agency, and since 2014 independent strategist, blogger, consultant, freelance writer, and now Editor & Publisher of The Resilience Journal.

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