The United Nations climate change negotiations concluded earlier this month in Paris. In my work outside of ESW, I was there as part of a coalition of almost 1,000 organizations from 110 countries dedicated to stopping climate change. The outcome of the negotiations–called the Paris Agreement–sets the world on a new path to more rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy. Many commentators have talked about this moment as the “road through Paris”. This term highlights that Paris was an important step, but only the next of many, on the path to ending climate change.
The road through Paris will be long and winding, but resilience is our guard rail. As any follower of ESW knows, resilient communities are already an important focus for us. The Paris Agreement only sharpens this importance. There are three reasons for this:
First, climate change is a long-term challenge, and we've already locked ourselves in to significant climate disruptions with our past pollution. We must build resilience to the shocks to our climate that we're already beginning to experience. This includes physical shocks, like damage to our infrastructure from floods and heat waves. It also includes social shocks, like forced migration and panic that can come from severe natural disasters.
Second, while the Paris Agreement will accelerate our economy's decarbonization, it does not go nearly as far as many climate change analysts think is needed. While there are ways to strengthen the Agreement in the future, until and unless those are implemented, we can expect even more climate change down the road. Things will get worse before they get better. That implies an even greater need for resilient planning. It means putting in places structures (both physical and social) that will help us adapt to coming climate change, avoiding some of its impacts. Importantly, it will also allow us to respond to the inevitable damage and losses that we won't be able to avoid.
Finally, resilient design can also be a tool to help us implement the Paris Agreement, and any stronger agreements that come after it. Resiliency is not just about bouncing back from shocks. It's also about designing our responses in ways that use resources more sustainably, to help avoid future shocks. The best way to adapt to a threat like climate change is to never have to face it in the first place. That means building low- and zero-carbon infrastructure today, so we have less climate change tomorrow. And since so many climate impacts will be experienced on a local level, we'll need unique resiliency solutions in each and every community and city.
You don't need to have been in Paris to be part of the Paris Agreement. ESW's members and chapters can help build the resilient communities that this new step in our struggle against climate change requires.
Kyle Gracey is the Chair of the Board of Directors for ESW.