Climate Resilience - Where Do We Go Next?

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Feb 09, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Climate Resilience - Where Do We Go Next?

Experts explore ways to open up climate change conversation Fellows of 573 The Art of Resilience have been brainstorming the issues surrounding climate change

People, places, and communities are increasingly forced to come to terms with the consequences of climate change. No longer is it an issue which we can ignore. Climate change is generating physical, virtual, and cultural challenges now, the likes of which the world has not had to deal with before. We are increasingly reminded that we all share this one planet.

The Earth's climate has been changing throughout history and much humankind and nature has proven capacity for resilience in facing the shocks it has experienced so far. In the past 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial retreat and advance. The beginning of the modern climate era and human civilization was about 7,000 years ago. But in our brief time on this planet, humans have had a marked impact. The current warming trend is continuing at an unprecedented rate, and 97 percent of climate scientists agree trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. 

Scientific, technological, socio-political, and economic sectors have sought to address climate change in recent years. In December 2015, 195 countries agreed to the first-ever universal, legally binding climate deal at the Paris climate conference (COP21). That in itself is a tremendous achievement, but there is plenty left to do. The arts and cultural sector also took a prominent place during the Paris negotiations, with the ArtCOP21 initiative hosting 550 events and engaging 250 artists from 54 countries. The arts and cultural sector should now continue to work alongside the technological, scientific, physical and socio-political areas to ensure the post-Paris agreement message is clear, coherent and well received.

Fellows at the Salzburg Global session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal recently met to discuss issues surrounding climate resilience and ways the arts could assist. The event has been highlighted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Here are a few of their summarized thoughts:

Climate change is more than just rising temperatures

When people think about climate change, their minds may initially steer toward rising temperatures, but that's not the whole picture. There are "many related tributaries." These areas can generate enough of a discussion by themselves, but by tackling climate change, we can at least find pathways to solutions for these complex challenges. People have to rise to these challenges at speed and scale. During this process, people, places, and communities may have to think about remaking who they are. There are at least seven trends which can feature around a cultural movement to do this. These trends include the arts, creative activists, cultural and business leadership, creative collaboration, transitional organizations, design and innovation, and policy accountability governance. 

It's important to reflect on what progress there has been

Previously, the idea governments from around the world would come together and deal with climate change was an "impossible dream." Nevertheless, it happened. In 2015, as part of the Paris Agreement, governments agreed to a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Governments also agreed to a further aim of limiting the increase to 1.5°C, reducing the risks and impacts of climate change. Politicians are beginning to understand the science and economics behind climate change. What will it cost the world if we don't act on climate change?

The Paris agreement was "extraordinary" for another reason. Not only did governments agree to take action, but they also gave themselves a time-frame, ending in the the second half of the century. The Agreement aims to restore the planet's balance to what it was before the Industrial Revolution. Governments were empowered and given confidence by some of their cities that have already taken action. We are in a different place to where we were 40 years ago. 

Cities show it can be easy being green

More than half of the world's population live in cities. They are engines of growth and innovation. Their main drawback is they are also major carbon emitters and vulnerable to the effects of climate change. One only has to look at the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York's poorest areas in 2012. C40 Cities involves 90 of the world's most important cities tackling climate change. It helps to convene workshops and study tours between city members, allowing mayors and city staff to share challenges and solutions. Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, Anne Hidalgo: "As mayors, we all face similar challenges and have to innovate to solve them." 

C40 Cities is planning to ensure every C40 member commits to a development strategy for their city in line to meet the Paris Agreement. C40 Cities believes the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C  is the difference between manageable and disaster. A holistic approach is needed, with cross-sector collaboration. Culture brings communities together, speaks in many tones and voices, stimulates and inspires and allows people to experience the world differently. "We need to do more than telling stories. We need a movement.... We need to create shocks."

Art is leading the way

Projects like reinventer.paris in France have enabled professionals from all fields to offer their thoughts and expertise on how to utilize 23 sites. This project was presented to Fellows at The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo backed the project. She said, "Paris has to reinvent itself every moment." The project called for innovative environmentally-friendly urban designs. Winners would be able to purchase or rent the terrains to carry out their plans. Deputy Mayor of Paris Jean-Louis Missika previously said Paris was facing "massive environmental challenges" which called for original solutions, such as integrating ecological materials and using innovative planting. One of the winning designs was the concept of transforming an abandoned train station into a wood-clad and plant-covered tower several floors high.

Communicating the right message using multiple platforms

There are different opportunities to get the message behind climate change out to the general public. It is important to recognize not everyone reads a newspaper, not everyone watches TV, and some people switch off from the news entirely. Time should be taken to consider what short, direct, and shareable messages can be used that encourage people to take positive action with regards to climate change. A number of suggestions were put forward by Fellows, which could be used on social media. 

  • Climate change erodes our stories - will we forget where we come from?
  • Make America Great Again - clean water and clean energy: jobs, social justice and preservation.
  • Take back control. Make environment sexy again.
  • Art action for climate action.
  • To fight the climate crisis, change the climate in your heart.
  • To stop global warming, unfreeze your heart.
  • Para frenar el calentamiento global: descongela tu corazón 
  • Get behind Mother Earth to save our past for our future: cultural and natural heritage.

To have a greater impact, there is suggestion that a topic of this scale should be brought down to the local level for people to better understand its consequences. If climate change is to be discussed or promoted through the arts and cultural sector, the artists have to check the facts beforehand to retain the public's trust.


The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.