Know Climate Change

Adaptation and Mitigation


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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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 beneficial opportunities'.

    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 in specific.

  3. 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.

Inter-relationships between Adaptation and Mitigation... Click to know

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.