Climate change: don't get scared, get ready

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Following November's climate negotiations in Warsaw, it seems no one is willing to give up any privileges for the benefit of the common good. Anyone observing these talks from the outside might think that if there was ever a time when one could count on politicians to make the right decisions, those days are over. So does that render politics obsolete?

Not at all. But as politicians we should understand that we are not able to deliver all the necessary political solutions. We have to involve many more stakeholders, not least the business sector, in our decision-making and actions - as facilitators, inspiration and as a means to collecting and sharing best practices. Given the global standstill, it is more important than ever to show that change is possible locally through cross-sectoral collaboration.

I recently put forward a climate adaptation plan which contains more than 60 action points. This was developed in a cross-ministerial process directly involving nine ministries and several stakeholders. We substantiated the government adaptation efforts by asking the "usual suspects" two questions: what is most important for adapting to climate change? And who else do we need to talk to as we prepare our climate adaptation plans?

That brought us in contact with many new stakeholders, including people from industry, house owners, insurance companies, nature conservation organisations, designers, engineers and municipalities. There was wide agreement that every municipality should have emergency plans for extreme weather situations, and plans for decoupling rainwater from the sewage system, and that we needed new ways of financing it.

This can be a frightening exercise for a ministry: the process is not entirely under the bureaucrats' control and the results could not be predicted. But look at what it brought us. We discovered that emergency planning was higher on the agenda than we would have thought and it got all the stakeholders moving in the same direction. And when we decided to finance these activities through water fees, there was acceptance – even from the house owners.

Involving a broad range of stakeholders also ensured that the entire agenda got a boost and companies discovered that climate change adaption can be a driver for marketing of Danish clean technologies. It represents new business opportunities.

With the climate adaptation plan, homeowners are focusing on mitigation of flooding risks, which gives work to smaller entrepreneurs. Municipalities are hiring medium-sized entrepreneurial companies, which specialise in flood-proof road solutions, and finally, larger consulting companies are finding it easier to sell their services around the world, based on the Danish experience.

Architects and utilities have started thinking in new ways about water storage. For example, instead of building a large concrete reservoir, the city of Roskilde decided to turn a field into a gigantic skateboard area, which can store as much water as 10 Olympic-size swimming pools during heavy rainfall. A technical installation in the city went from being a blind spot to a contribution to life and public health.

We changed the rules for water pricing so that a local government could choose to use their roads for transporting rainwater by designing them differently and maybe using permeable asphalt. We enabled them to create nature areas for storing rainwater to the benefit of the local citizens (and house prices). But all of this is contingent upon them demonstrating that the alternative solutions are less expensive than building new waste water treatment plants or expanding the sewers.

I also challenged our insurance companies, by asking them: "Given that you can raise prices with reference to large storms and damages, why don't you lower your prices again when house owners or local governments make their house or local area climate-proof?" This is exactly what three of the largest insurance companies in Denmark did. They now offer discounts on house insurance for homeowners, who have taken steps to avoid flooding of their properties.

I think it is possible to set up a scenario of a climate-proof city that is smarter, greener, healthier and more fun to live in. And by being among the first movers in this area, local technology developers, city planners, insurers and the construction sector lend a helping hand, as the projects serve as full-scale demonstration facilities. Such a win-win-situation is infinitely more compelling than a 2C (or more) scenario with frequent floods and large-scale damage to roads, homes and shops.

So as we hope and pray that politicians get their act together in the runup to COP 21 in Paris in 2015, do what you can in your local area, company or government.