Mitigation or Adaptation to Climate Change

‘Mitigation’ and ‘Adaptation’ are the emerging concept as well as universally acceptable mechanism for combating climate change. The negative impact of climate change such as sea level rise, draught, flood, storms, and so on are obvious even if we stop all Green House Gas (GHGs) emission across the world right now. Therefore, there are not many options except wider scale applicability of adaptation.

Sabates-Wheeler, Mitchell, and Ellis (2008) notes, “‘Adaptation’ is a term that is increasingly reserved to refer to processes that build the resilience of households, communities and sectors to changes in the climate. But ‘adaptation’ always has, and arguably always should, refer to more than just responses to climate change.” Previously viewed as a somewhat defeatist response to climate change, adaptation is now seen as an essential component of any climate policy (Pielke et al. 2007). Some criticize that adaptation is getting more attention than mitigation but previously mitigation became the talk of the world.

First, the impacts of climate change are already being observed and, because of lags in the natural system, more impacts are inevitable (Burton et al. 2002). Second, mitigation responses have been slow and inadequate, making adaptation all the more necessary (Reid and Huq 2007). And third, aware that they are likely to bear the greatest physical impacts from climate change, governments in developing countries are increasingly demanding greater attention to adaptation on the international stage. [i]

According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2001), “Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.” Most recent approaches are dealing with the community initiatives, coping strategies, and knowledge, which is commonly known as community based adaptation. There is much debate on who contribute more for GHG emissions and who are paying for that. Huq and Ayers (2007), notes, “Countries which face the greatest dangers from the physical impacts of climate change – mainly in South Asia and sub- Saharan Africa – have contributed least greenhouse gas emissions.”

The fourth assessment report of the IPCC finds that climate change is disproportionately affecting poor communities (IPCC). The community-based adaptation to climate change approach (CBA), which has developed considerable currency with civil society organisations, is designed to help the poorest and most vulnerable adapt to climate change (Huq and Reid 2007). Majority funds nowadays are channelling through government, which may not have any assurance that the fund will reach extreme poor and vulnerable.

CBA is defined as ‘action by or for a community to alleviate or respond to the negative impacts of increasing climate dynamics in order to maintain human security and enhance levels of social and economic development. These actions should not augment inputs to global warming and should at all times conserve the ecological sustainability of the community and its ability to reproduce the biocapacity it consumes’ (WikiAdapt 2008).

The CBA approach has its conceptual roots in resilience theory (e.g. Holling 2001; Berkes and Folke 2002; Dovers and Handmer 1992), implying that CBA recognises that environmental knowledge, vulnerability and resilience to climate impacts are embedded in societies and cultures. Consequently, the focus of CBA is on empowering communities to take action themselves based on their own decisionmaking processes shaped by their own knowledge as resilient actors. While CBA projects have only begun to emerge within the last five years, two major international workshops have been held to share experiences, both in Bangladesh in 2005 and 2007, organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and its partners. A third workshop is planned for 2009. At the 2007 workshop, Huq (2007) noted that ‘community-based adaptation has moved rapidly to the forefront of the climate change agenda … and that the workshop should agree to formalize a network to address the “tidal wave” of community based adaptation’.[ii]

Some thinkers suggest to work on asset that would enable individual as well as community to be capable to act fighting against changes or coping with the changing circumstances. Assets, as used here, are resources which people use not only to generate additional flows and stock (Ford 2004, cited in Moser 2007), but which also give ‘the capability to be and to act’ (Bebbington 1999: 2022). Assets thus include both tangible capitals (natural, physical, and financial) as well as intangible capitals (human and social). The ability to adapt and cope is a function of wealth/income, technology, scientific and technical knowledge and skills, information, infrastructure, policy and management institutions and equity (Chatterjee & Huq, 2002).

Climate change is a complex societal problem. The debate in the 13th conference of parties to UNFCCC in Bali indicated the complexity of climate change problem handling and hard process on negotiations on towards new post-Kyoto climate change mitigation commitment and actions.

Climate change problem handling process includes some knowledge, often lack of knowledge, or uncertain knowledge, and the power, interest, and emotions of different actors involved in the process. Handling of climate change problems needs a long term integral approach. Integral with regards to reflection on the causes of the climate change problem, integral interventions of all aspects of problem, as well as integral implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation to climate change measures. Climate change problem is politically vulnerable. Scientist can indicate what is the best way to handle a complex societal problem, how to deal with uncertainties and how to handle the problem optimal in the interest of general public however it is up to the politicians to decide on interventions.[iii]

There is a renowned proverb in medical science that ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Emission control is the prevention of climate change and sea level rise. Although Bangladesh emits a negligible volume of greenhouse gases, the country should take necessary steps to reduce its emissions. Control of deforestation and fossil fuel use is essential for the purpose.[iii]

The need to control the emissions of greenhouse gases – mitigation – is now widely accepted and governments at all levels as well as major companies in the private sector are struggling with planning and implementation of the ways and means to achieve this goal. Over the 15 years since the initial signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 it has become painfully clear that climate change and greenhouse gas emission are not so amenable to international agreement and action. The quantity and sources of emissions are much greater and are much more deeply embedded in the economy.

The Kyoto Protocol to the Convention has been agreed, but at its best this represents only a small step in the right direction, and implementation is falling short even among those countries (including Canada) that have ratified the Protocol. Some other countries including the United States have declined to ratify the Protocol, and the largest and most rapidly growing sources of greenhouse gases in the developing world (China, India, Brazil) have declined to accept any curbs on their emissions.[v]

Adaptation and mitigation linkages: Mitigation (i.e. the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions) results in avoiding the adverse impacts of climate change in the long run (at least the incremental impacts due to the greenhouse gases not emitted), while adaptation can reduce the unavoidable impacts in the near term (but cannot reduce them to zero). Failure to mitigate will lead eventually to failure of adaptation, hence adaptation and mitigation are not alternative strategies but complementary ones that need to be pursued together. Failure to mitigate sufficiently in high-income nations will create ever more adaptation failures, mostly in low- and middle-income nations, including many with insignificant contributions to climate change. The political consequences of this will obviously be enormous.[vi]

End Notes:
i. One culmination of this is the Delhi Declaration, signed in 2002, which saw the creation of special programmes for the least developed countries (Pielke et al. 2007).
ii. IDS Bulletin Volume 39 Number 4 September 2008
iii.Dalia Streimikiene, Irena Alebaite (2008), 20th EURO Mini Conference. “Continuous Optimization and Knowledge-Based Technologies”, (EurOPT-2008)
iv. Sarwar, & Khan (2007). Sea Level Rise: A Threat to the Coast of Bangladesh
v. Cities Preparing for Climate Change: A Study of Six Urban Regions, 2007.
vi. Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Areas, The possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Sabates-Wheeler, R., Mitchell, T., & Ellis, F. (2008), Avoiding Repetition: Time for CBA to Engage with the Livelihoods Literature? IDS Bulletin, Volume, 39 Number 4.
Martin Prowse and Lucy Scott (2008). Assets and Adaptation: An Emerging Debate. IDS Bulletin. Volume 39. Number 4.
Pielke, R., Prins, G., Rayner, S., & Sarewitz, D. (2007). Lifting the Taboo on Adaptation. Nature 445: 597–8.
Burton, I., Huq, S., Lim, B., Pilifosova, O., & Schipper, E.M. (2002). From Impacts Assessment to Adaptation Priorities: The Shaping of Adaptation Policy. Climate Policy 2: 145–59.
Reid, H., and Huq, S. (2007). How we are Set to Cope with the Impacts. IIED Briefing. London: International Institute of Environment and Development.
Huq, S., & Ayers, J. (2007). Critical List: The 100 Nations Most Vulnerable to Climate Change. IIED Sustainable Development Opinion (December), London: International Institute for Environment and Development.
Huq, S., and Reid, H. (2007). Community-Based Adaptation. A Vital Approach to the Threat Climate Change Poses to the Poor. IIED Briefing Papers (May). Retrieved April 16, 2009, from
WikiAdapt (2008). Community-based Adaptation (CBA) Projects. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from Based_Adaptation_(CBA)_projects.
Moser, C.O.N. (2007). Reducing Global Poverty: The Case for Asset Accumulation. Washington DC: Brookings Institution
Bebbington, A. (1999). Capitals and Capabilities: A Framework for Analyzing Peasant Viability, Rural Livelihoods and Poverty. World Development 27.12: 2021–44.
Holling, C.S. (2001). Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological and Social Systems. Ecosystems 4: 390–405
Berkes, F. and Folke, C. (2002). Back to the Future: Ecosystem Dynamics and Local Knowledge. In L.H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling (eds), Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, Washington DC: Island Press: 121–46
Sarwar, G. M., & Khan, M. H. (2007). Sea Level Rise: A Threat to the Coast of Bangladesh, Internationales Asienforum, Vol. 38 No. 3–4, pp. 375–397
Dovers, S., & Handmer, J. (1992). Uncertainty, Sustainability and Change. Global Environmental Change. 2.4: 262–76.


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