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Climate change mitigation or climate change adaptation? Either way, Scotland is ready

People around the world are more aware than ever of the climate crisis.

Helen Wollaston - Interim Chair - Zero Waste Scotland | 14 Apr 22

The impact of the changes to our climate is happening now and regularly reported from all over the globe. People power is bringing a glimmer of hope to push the leaders of the world to end the climate crisis.

Despite this, there is a misguided assumption that we have time to fix things and reverse our wrongs. The truth is many scientists believe the changes are irreversible and, instead, we need to adapt now. We need to make vital changes to how we live and use the earth’s resources.

In March, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published a report, stating that Scotland is “not climate change ready”. These sentiments were echoed, on a global scale, in a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this past week, which highlighted the irremediable current damage to the planet and the immediate need for climate change mitigation.

Yet, Scotland’s ambition around tackling the climate crisis is becoming increasingly more known across the globe, especially after hosting the world’s most important climate conference, COP26, just last year, and with many targets and commitments already underway.

The nation has set out a far-reaching vision for how it wants to build resilience to a changing climate, through its second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme (SCCAP2). Progress against this programme was a feature of the CCC report, for which the reading was frankly a tad uncomfortable - with the suggestion that more needs to be done to deliver practical actions against the stated ambitions. 

Already under consideration are a wide variety of adaptation measures - such as building flood defense walls, establishing green infrastructure, and rethinking how we heat and cool our homes and buildings. All of which need to provide flexibility and resilience against future shocks and severe weather events. 

Unfortunately, many of these adaptation measures result in an increase in consumption of materials and resources which, ultimately, leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions. Findings from Zero Waste Scotland’s Material Flow Account showed that around 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the materials and resources we manufacture, use, and throw away. These numbers are alarmingly high. Something needs to change. And it needs to change now.

Zero Waste Scotland believes there is an economic model which offers a bridge between climate change mitigation and adaptation:  the circular economy.

Carefully planned actions, which are circular in nature, can have both a regenerative and restorative impact. As we strive to adapt to the changing climate, and as we continue to respond to it, this cause-and-effect relationship between mitigation and adaptation is likely to increase. 

The circular economy’s power for reducing emissions is clear, as is its impact on reducing biodiversity loss. Reducing the impact of consumption on natural resources and habitats can be achieved by reusing more of the products and materials already in use, minimising waste by reducing further demand, and limiting pollution from our throw-away society. In short, changing our mindsets from “make, use, dispose” to “make, use, reuse”. 

There are clear opportunities to consider how we best make use of what we already have. This could be things like refurbishing infrastructure and buildings, rather than constructing from scratch; or looking at nature-based solutions that integrate green infrastructure and ecosystem services into the built environment, which will further boost resilience and promote circularity – if they use renewable resources, reuse, or repurpose other resource streams and avoid unwanted by-products.  

Designing this infrastructure so that it can be more easily repaired and upgraded as the climate shifts over time will not only reduce further consumption of materials as we seek to shore up our infrastructure further, but it will limit future costs and provide specific job opportunities through maintenance and remanufacture.  

There are already a number of businesses, in Scotland, that are doing fantastic work in operating sustainably – real proof that the circular economy can and does work. Businesses like Kenoteq, who are at the forefront of a circular revolution in the construction sector by producing non-fired brick made from 90% reclaimed demolition materials; and Beauty Kitchen, who are renowned for their ‘return, refill, reuse’ system which invites shoppers to return empty bottles and tubs for everyday products (like shampoo and moisturiser) to then be cleaned and refilled for other customers.

Climate adaptation techniques can also serve as a catalyst for more circularity innovation and market-pull for businesses seeking to reshape their business model.  The potential for pushing for circularity in both mitigation and adaptation calls for a greater focus on supporting the circular economy in all its guises. 

We cannot determine exactly what will happen to our future climate, but the best way to prepare ourselves for what is to come is by switching to a circular economy.

A Scotland that is circular is a Scotland that is ready.


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