Climate Mitigation and Adaptation

Defining Climate Mitigation and Adaptation


Climate mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk and hazards of climate change to human life, property.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines mitigation as: “An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.” Climate Mitigation and Adaptation

Climate adaptation refers to the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences.

The IPCC defines adaptation as the, “adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation.”




Climate Mitigation and Adaptation

The terms “adaptation” and “mitigation” are two important terms that are fundamental in the climate change debate. The IPCC defined adaptation as adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderate harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Similarly, Mitchell and Tanner (2006) defined adaptation as an understanding of how individuals, groups and natural systems can prepare for and respond to changes in climate or their environment. According to them, it is crucial to reducing vulnerability to climate change. While mitigation tackles the causes of climate change, adaptation tackles the effects of the phenomenon. The potential to adjust in order to minimize negative impact and maximize any benefits from changes in climate is known as adaptive capacity. A successful adaptation can reduce vulnerability by building on and strengthening existing coping strategies.

In general the more mitigation there is, the less will be the impacts to which we will have to adjust, and the less the risks for which we will have to try and prepare. Conversely, the greater the degree of preparatory adaptation, the less may be the impacts associated with any given degree of climate change.


For people today, already feeling the impacts of past inaction in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation is not altogether passive, rather it is an active adjustment in response to new stimuli. However, our present age has proactive options (mitigation), and must also plan to live with the consequences (adaptation) of global warming.

The idea that less mitigation means greater climatic change, and consequently requiring more adaptation is the basis for the urgency surrounding reductions in greenhouse gases. Climate mitigation and adaptation should not be seen as alternatives to each other, as they are not discrete activities but rather a combined set of actions in an overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.




Mitigation Strategies

Climate change involves complex interactions between climatic, environmental, economic, political, institutional, social, and technological processes. It cannot be addressed or comprehended in isolation of broader societal goals (such as equity or sustainable development), or other existing or probable future sources of stress.

In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) three conditions are made explicit when working towards the goal of greenhouse gas stabilization in the atmosphere:

1. That it should take place within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change;

2. That food production is not threatened and;

3. That economic development should proceed in a sustainable manner

To eliminate or reduce the risk of climate change to human life and property, both policy instruments and technology must be used in the context of sustainable development.



Adaptation Strategies

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change refers to adaptation in several of its articles: Article 4.1(f): All Parties shall “Take climate change considerations into account, to the extent feasible, in their relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, and employ appropriate methods, for example impact assessments, formulated and determined nationally, with a view to minimizing adverse effects on the economy, on public health and on the quality of the environment, of projects or measures undertaken by them to mitigate or adapt to climate change.”



Nicholas Stern on Climate Mitigation and Adaptation

For developing countries, good adaptation and good development policy are very strongly intertwined, and it is right that climate change should now become central to national planning processes and to development assistance. International support for adaptation will come in large part through the delivery of the commitments made by rich countries to double aid by 2010 and the commitments made by many countries to meet the target of 0.7% of GNI by 2015. This will deliver an increase of hundreds of billions of dollars.

But there are limits to adaptation. Small island developing states threatened by sea level rise have fewer options to adapt. Sea defences are particularly costly for low-lying islands , and may do little to protect the tourism and fisheries that sustain the local economy.

Development and diversification are still important strategies wherever possible, but ultimately the international community will have to find ways to support alternative responses, including the managed resettlement of some people in these states. This will bring many challenges, particularly for those people that must move. There will be much greater pressures if unabated climate change leads to sea level rise that threatens much larger populations in low-lying coastal areas. (from the Stern Review postcript, Janauary 2007)





Running counter to the technological and economic potential for greenhouse gas emissions reduction are rapid economic development and accelerating change in some socio-economic and behavioral trends that are increasing total energy use, especially in developed countries and high-income groups in developing countries. Dwelling units and vehicles in many countries are growing in size, and the intensity of electrical appliance use is increasing. Use of electrical office equipment in commercial buildings is increasing. In developed countries, and especially the USA, sales of larger, heavier, and less efficient vehicles are also increasing.

Some adaptation is occurring now, to observed and projected future climate change, but on a limited basis. See the IPCC page on current climate mitigation and adaptation.