In climate talks, the terms adaptation and mitigation are used often. What do they mean?

The challenge of dealing with the impacts of climate change is framed in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Mitigation involves cutting down emissions and thus reducing the magnitude of climate change itself. Mitigation of climate change means reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking care of greenhouse gas sinks. Renewable energy, afforestation etc are mitigating agencies.

Adaptation, by contrast, involves efforts to limit our vulnerability to climate change impacts through various measures, while not necessarily dealing with the underlying cause of those impacts. Adaptive measures typically only deal with impacts on humans and not on ecosystems and our environment. Coral reefs, for example, are unlikely to adapt to the twin impacts of global warming and ocean acidification.

Restricting emissions is intended to slow and eventually reverse the growth of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels particularly in the atmosphere. Reducing emissions will affect CO2 levels slowly though because this gas has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Therefore the effect of reductions in emissions on the average global temperature will not be seen for decades. Thus, mitigation has to coexist with adaptation.

Adaptation means to try to reduce the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities. It is thus preparing for a time when the climate, i.e. the average weather, is markedly different from what we experience today. As a word, “preparedness” describes better the active nature of adaptation; we try to forecast future weather conditions and create structures and operating models which will work in these new conditions.

In agriculture, drought resistant varieties, conservation of water structures etc are adaptation measures. Green Climate Fund
As explained above, Measures to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it complement each other. Without taking measures to mitigate climate change, there is a threat that the average temperature could rise to such levels that people’s lives in many regions of the world would be significantly affected or be made impossible. In such a case even adaptation measures would not be able to guarantee everyone’s well-being. Even if emissions were successfully restricted, the slow elimination of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would affect the climate for decades and centuries. That is why at the local level it is necessary to prepare for the future in any case and attempt to forecast the nature of the change and its effects. Thus some degree of preparation for the future is essential.

Measures to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it generally complement each other. Unless greenhouse gas emissions are mitigated, people’s living conditions will become significantly more difficult and adaptation may become impossible in many parts of the globe. Take organic farming , for example, it adapts to climate change by keeping soil moist. At the same time, by avoiding agro chemicals, it also mitigates.

Green Climate Fund (GCF) that is set up internationally is an example for both.

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