Vulnerability, Adaptation, and Mitigation
There are three important concepts related to climate
change, its impact and the responses of natural and
human systems. These concepts are defined below.
- Vulnerability: In the literature of climate
change, vulnerability is defined as the combined
measure of threats to a particular system. Vulnerability
is the degree to which a system is susceptible to
or unable to cope with the adverse effects of climate
change, including climate variability and extremes
(Mc Carthy et al., 2007).
- Adaptation: Adaptation refers to the ability
of a system to adjust to climate change in order
to reduce its vulnerability, and enhance the resilience
to observed and anticipated impacts of climate change.
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change) defines adaptation as '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
Adaptation occurs in physical, ecological, and
human systems. It involves the following.
- Changes in social and environmental processes
- Perceptions of climate risk
- Practices and functions to reduce risk
- Exploration of new opportunities to cope
with the changed environment
In other words, adaptation can be understood
as an ongoing process addressing many factors
and stresses, rather than just climate change
- Mitigation: Mitigation refers to any strategy
or action taken to remove the GHGs released into
the atmosphere, or to reduce their amount.
IPCC defines mitigation as 'technological
change and substitution that reduce resource
inputs and emissions per unit of output with
respect to climate change. Mitigation means
implementing policies to reduce GHG emissions
and enhance sinks'.
Adaptation and mitigation are complementary to each
other. For example, if mitigation measures are undertaken
effectively, lesser will be the impacts to which we
will need to adapt. Similarly, if adaptation measures
(or the degree of preparedness) are strong, lesser
might be the impacts associated with any given degree
of climate change.
Let us proceed to discuss each one of these concepts
in detail. We will first explore the concept of vulnerability,
know the factors determining vulnerability, and identify
the key vulnerabilities.
Recently, there has been an interest in exploring
the inter-relationships between adaptation and
mitigation. Although the research on adaptation
and mitigation has been rather unconnected to
date, it is clear that both the responses are
equally important and can help reduce the risks
of climate change to natural and human systems.
For example, mitigation will have global benefits,
whereas adaptation benefits are from local to
regional in scale. However, adaptation benefits
can be immediately visible as compared to mitigation,
where the effects may not be noticeable until
around the middle of the 21st century.
There are some differences between adaptation
and mitigation, but if the key vulnerabilities
to climate change are to be addressed, adaptation
is essential as even after the most rigorous mitigation
efforts, climate change will continue in the next
few decades. At the same time, mitigation is necessary
because reliance on adaptation alone could eventually
lead to a magnitude of climate change to which
effective adaptation is possible only at very
high social, environmental, and economic costs.
Hence, a portfolio of strategies that include
mitigation, adaptation, and technological development
to address both issues will be required to diminish
the risk associated with climate change. These
synergies will also increase the cost effectiveness
of actions to tackle the impacts of climate change.
Such limited synergies exist in some sectors like
agriculture, forestry, and urban infrastructure.