Should we mitigate or adapt to climate change?

No single option is enough on its own…

June 27, 2024
  • Umit Bhatia

Whenever an incident or event happens, we instinctively work towards addressing the root cause, which no doubt is an important action. And this is exactly what most of the climate actors are mobilising their time, effort, and money on – Climate Mitigation. Having said that, it is equally important to deal with the effects of the situation now and in the foreseeable future. This is where ‘Climate Adaptation’ plays a key role. In essence, when it comes to combating climate change, mitigation and adaptation act as two complementary strategies. Mitigation is an intervention to reduce the GHG emissions sources or enhance the sinks - basically trying to fix the cause of climate change and reduce the problem at source. Adaptation is the process of adjustment to fix or limit the effects of climate change or to take advantage of opportunities provided by a changing climate.

There are times when we reach a point of no return, leaving us with no other option but to adapt to the irreversible situation. This is exactly what is warranted to save our planet from climate change. No single option is enough; mitigation actions might take decades to affect rising temperatures, so we must adapt now. Let’s deep dive into adaptation choices by various actors including transformative adaptation pathways.

Just recall your daily routine - You wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, take a shower, prepare your breakfast, eat breakfast, then go to your office or school. Did you know that if you changed how, you perform these daily activities, you are taking part in climate action? By turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, making water pressure adjustments, taking shorter showers, eating local produce, walking, or taking public transport, you are participating in the United Nations Act Now campaign for individual action to confront the climate challenge. So, a behavioural shift like using less plastic, opting for local produce, reducing food waste, saving water, choosing the right commute option, etc are solutions that can be taken at an individual scale.

Now consider a coastal community experiencing floods due to the rise in sea levels. A possible solution to the problem is the use of vegetation, such as mangroves for coastal defence. And to do that there is a need to leverage local knowledge, scientific knowledge, community engagement, and encourage intervention by policy makers. This is a solution at a regional scale.

Transitioning from fossil to renewable energy, forest restoration, adapting weather conducive agricultural practises or diversifying crop cultivation, and developing action plans to deal with climate emergencies, prevent and manage natural catastrophes are decisions that warrant solutions at a national scale.

The effects of climate change are rapid, unpredictable, and disastrous. Coping alone will not be able to solve the societal problem due to climate change. This is why an interest in incremental and transformative adaptation pathways is being promoted. Incremental adaptation is about introducing marginal changes over time and strengthening the existing system such as increasing the size of water reservoir. On the other hand, transformative adaptation is about making fundamental changes to a system such as reshaping cities for increased disaster resilience. These pathways may require multiple actors to come together.

Let’s imagine the experience of shopping for an outfit 70 years ago. You had to buy the fabric from one place, then go to the tailor. He or she would take your measurements. After the agreed time, you would visit the tailor to check the fit of the garment to make sure it’s according to specifications, then take it home. Fast forward to now. You walk into the department store, you choose the clothes you want in your size, colour, and style, fit it in real time, and buy it if you like it and have the means to buy it. Even faster, you can do all this online from the comfort of your home even when you do not have the means to buy it. Unfortunately, there is no off-the-rack solution for climate adaptation governance. This is because climate adaptation governance solutions depend on the context. This means that the stakeholders involved in this chain must initially agree on the definition of the problem and implement decisions that are incremental and or transformative in nature or hybrid. The choice of adaptation needs to take cognizance of the situation.

Hybrid approaches to adaptation go beyond simply putting traditional grey and green measures side-by-side. They systematically blend built solutions and nature-based measures to enhance the advantages (or reduce limitations) of using either approach alone.

Having said that, as we make choices about how to adapt food, water, infrastructure, and cities to the changing climate, it is imperative that we avoid further degradation of the natural environment.

Make your judicious choice as an individual, a corporate, a government, and a not-for-profit body!

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