For decades, our understanding of climate change has followed a path of increasing confidence about its drivers and severity of its impacts. The global response though has been characterised by fits and bursts of ambition as it drifted in and out of political consciousness, but largely, it's been a triumph of hope and hyperbole over substance. Targets and goals have on too many occasions slipped through our fingers with little more than regrets and promises to do better next time.
For a long time climate change was something coming down the track. Now it is here, and threatening to accelerate away from us. As we approach crucial tipping points, witness the flurry of meteorological records affecting the globe, it all becomes very real.
The last couple of years has seen the world begin to wake up to our climate emergency: climate action is taking the center stage and bold commitments are increasing in their frequency, and their ambition. This rhythm is not going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, the more we realise how far we are from hitting our goals, and the more previously unknown information gets in the way, we will need to act faster, and more efficiently.
What this means is that we need to have the capacity to react, think on our feet and adapt fast to whatever is thrown at us. But at present, the reality is that our climate action plans are not ready to face these bumps in the road. The way climate mitigation strategies are built leave little room for the fast realignment of targets and action plans.
So what are the potential disruptors of climate action plans and how can we be better equipped to face them?
Risks and potential disruptors of Climate Action Plans
There are many events which could disrupt and throw a climate action plan off track over the course of its implementation. Here is a non-exhaustive list of disruptive and likely events which would demand the rethinking of the plan:
What mitigation plans can borrow from adaptation and resilience plans
Climate action plans are not ready to face and adapt quickly and swiftly to such events. The fact is, a comprehensive and consistent climate action plan is the result of many hours of intensive analysis and expert input. Climate action plans are not only difficult to edit due to all the interdependent, complex information they contain but also due to their format, most often shaped as static pdfs and sets of spreadsheets.
Even the process of collaborating to edit is hampered by the medium they are created in. They are also the sum of numerous conversations and the result of consensus between multiple stakeholders, which may have taken months to build. Furthermore, the history of such plans is one of plans being adopted and then followed until their conclusion (even when hopelessly out of date in a fast changing world). There is no precedent for municipal climate strategies and accompanying plans incorporating this reflexive dynamism, and having governance and communications to support this.
As such, realigning a plan is far from automatic. Climate mitigation plans are lacking a major element: the flexibility to deal with the disruption of unexpected events, unknown outcomes - and incorporate this iteratively. Unlike adaptation plans, which are contingent on what is expected to happen and have in-built accommodation of uncertainty, climate mitigation plans trace a line in the future to follow that supposes a high level of confidence! But one thing is for sure, just like for adaptation, planning for climate change is not linear or straightforward, and room should be left to deal with the unexpected and correct our course before it is too late.
At the moment, this maladaptation to uncertainty and change makes climate action plans sensitive to being derailed. And this sort of disruption is not something we can afford, when targets are set and need to be attained within the next 20 years.
The case for Living Climate Action Plans for continuous optimisation
We need action plans that enable us to get back on our feet quickly, and that factor in, and optimize our processes for uncertainty and iteration. Plans that can be adjusted on the fly, and reduce friction, as much as possible, to keep the plan on track.
Below is an assessment of what most climate action plans are like today, and what is needed for them to become truly Living Plans, proofed against, or rather, embracing uncertainty:
It is easier to iterate when we already know what works and what doesn’t, and why. We have the chance to adapt and get back on our feet much faster if we do share all these variables. But it isn’t enough to share and have access to all this information. We also need to have a way to sort through it all and make it work. For that, we believe that an operating system is the only way. ClimateOS provides this framework: The data, the simulations, the structure, the common language. It’s a way to interconnect our thinking and continuously improve and optimize our actions.
For decades, we have had a tendency to design everything from our actual physical cities to more abstract climate action plans following ‘permanent configurations, which is the opposite of what is required in a world going through radical changes across multiple frontiers’. Good climate adaptation and resilience plans have embedded flexibility and potential for adjustment at their heart. It is now time for climate mitigation plans to do the same.