Monday, September 15, 2008

Adaptation and mitigation

A useful explanation from the Financial Times: ….In climate circles, mitigation means slowing global warming by tackling the underlying problem: the build-up of greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere through human activities.

….Adaptation, by contrast, means dealing with the consequences of climate change – for example, through strengthening flood defences to guard against increasingly stormy weather or rising sea levels. However much money and resources are devoted to mitigation, there is an in-built momentum to the rise in CO2 levels – and consequently global warming – that makes adaptation essential.

If the rise in global temperature is kept to the lowest levels in the range predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – below, say, 2°C – parts of the world may experience a net “benefit”. For example, some northern temperate regions of Europe and Canada may see crop yields rise while a fall in winter heating costs outweighs any increase in summer cooling costs. But most parts of the world will lose out, even with a small temperature rise, and everywhere will face expensive adaptation if the global increase exceeds 3°C.

….Despite all the uncertainties, one can tentatively conclude that investments amounting to tens of billions of dollars a year will be required in developing countries, says Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute. “That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s of the same order of magnitude as the European Union spends on the Common Agricultural Policy,” he explains.

…“The numbers show that climate change is not only, or even primarily, an environmental challenge,” says Mr Klein. “For the largest part of the world it is, above anything else, a development challenge.” The response should be to incorporate climate change into the mainstream of development, rather than treat it as something special.

…Adaptation is often seen as the domain of governments; only they have the foresight and long-term vision to be able to provide strategic leadership and resources. But, in fact, the private sector has a big role to play, both through companies and the actions of individual consumers.

The Stockholm Environment Institute draws distinctions between “anticipatory” adaptation and “reactive” adaptation, depending on whether the action takes place before or after the impacts of climate change have been felt. Building houses on stilts to avoid flooding and redesigning oil rigs to withstand stronger storms would be anticipatory, while changing farming practices in response to milder winters would be reactive.

A typical Bahnar people's stilt house called Rông rebuilt in Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam. Shot by Rungbachduong, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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