Climate Change 2001:
Working Group III: Mitigation
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10.4.2 What Should the Response Be? The Relationship between Adaptation and Mitigation

The principal objective of mitigation activities is to reduce the amount of anthropogenic CO2 and other GHG emissions in order to slow down and thus delay climate change. Ultimately, this is to achieve “stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC, 1993, Article 2). In contrast, climate change adaptation aims to reduce adverse consequences of climate change and to enhance positive impacts, through private action and/or public measures (Box 10.3). Adaptation activities include behavioural, institutional, and technological adjustments. They capture a wide array of potential strategies, such as coastal protection, establishing corridors for migrating species, searching for drought-resistant crops, altering planting patterns, forest management, as well as personal savings or insurance that may cover the damage expected by individuals (Toman and Bierbaum, 1996). Adaptation is a central theme of WGII (IPCC, 2001b).

Box 10.3. Mitigation and Adaptation

Mitigation consists of activities that aim to reduce GHG emissions directly or indirectly (e.g., by changing behavioural patterns, or by developing and diffusing relevant technologies), by capturing GHGs before they are emitted to the atmosphere or sequestering GHGs already in the atmosphere by enhancing their sinks.

Adaptation is defined as adjustments in human and natural systems, in response to actual or expected climate stimuli or their effects, that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities (see IPCC, 2001b)

Whereas mitigation deals with the causes of climate change, adaptation tackles the consequences. As a result, the distribution of benefits from mitigation and adaptation policies is fundamentally different in terms of damage avoided. Mitigation will have only a long-term global impact on climate change damage, while adaptation options usually generate a positive effect in a shorter term. Adaptation activities mainly benefit those who implement them, while gains from mitigation activities accrue also to those who have not invested into the abatement policies. Mitigation is plagued by the free-rider problem and might create severe problems for decision making as opposed to adaptation, in which free-riding is much more limited. Hence, the output of mitigation activities can be viewed as a global public good, while the output of adaptation measures is either a private good in the case of autonomous adaptation or a regional or national public good in the case of public strategies (Callaway et al., 1998; Leary, 1999). Mitigation policies at the global scale are efficient only if all major emitters implement their accepted reduction commitments. In contrast, most adaptation policies are carried out by those for whom averted damage exceeds the respective costs (Jepma and Munasinghe, 1998).

What adaptation and mitigation actions have in common is that they both avoid climate change damages. So far the debate about climate change policy has been dominated by emission reduction activities. The strong bias towards mitigation schemes has resulted in a relatively poor incorporation of adaptive response strategies into climate change analysis, although methods on how to evaluate and assess adaptive response strategies have already been elaborated (Feenstra et al., 1998; Parry and Carter, 1998). The reasons for this are diverse. Adaptation has been associated with an attitude of fatalism and acceptance. Putting too much emphasis on adaptation strategies might raise the notions that mitigation efforts have little effect, that climate change is inevitable, and/or that mitigation measures are unnecessary. Approaching the climate issue from the adaptive side might inhibit concerted rational action by governments, as adaptation measures are conducted and rewarded locally. Consequently, there is no incentive to participate in international negotiations if a country considers itself to be able to adapt fully to climate change (Pielke, 1998).

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