IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

2.5.2 Mitigation, adaptation and climate change impacts

The discussion on mitigation and adaptation policy portfolios has a global as well as a national/regional dimension. It should be recognized that mitigation and adaptation are very different regarding time frame and distribution of benefits. Dang et al. (2003, Table 1) highlights a number of important commonalities and differences between mitigation and adaptation policies. Both policy areas can be related to sustainable development goals, but differ according to the direct benefits that are global and long term for mitigation, while being local and shorter term for adaptation. Furthermore adaptation can be both reactive (to experienced climate change) and proactive, while mitigation can only be proactive in relation to benefits from avoided climate change occurring over centuries. Dang et al. (2003, Table 4) also points out that there can be conflicts between adaptation and mitigation in relation to the implementation of specific national policy options. For example, installing air-conditioning systems in buildings is an adaptation option, but energy requirements can increase GHG emissions, and thus climate change.

In relation to the trade-off between mitigation and adaptation, Schneider (2004) points out that when long-term integrated assessment studies are used to assess the net benefits of avoided climate change (including adaptation options) versus the costs of GHG emission reduction measures, the full range of possible climate outcomes, including impacts that remain highly uncertain such as surprises and other climate irreversibility, should be included. Without taking these uncertain events into consideration, decision-makers will tend to be more willing to accept prospective future risks rather than attempt to avoid them through abatement. It is worth noting here that,when faced with the risk of a major damage, human beings may make their judgment based on the consequences of the damage rather than on probabilities of events. Schneider concludes that it is not clear that climate surprises have a low probability, they are just very uncertain at present, and he suggests taking these uncertainties into consideration in integrated assessment models, by adjusting the climate change damage estimates. The adjustments suggested include using historical data for estimating the losses of extreme events, valuing ecosystem services, subjective probability assessments of monetary damage estimates, and the use of a discount rate that decreases over time in order to give high values to future generations.

In this way the issues of jointly targeting mitigation and adaptation has an element of decision-making under uncertainty, due to the complexity of the environmental and human systems and their interactions. Kuntz-Duriseti (2004) suggests dealing with this uncertainty by combining economic analysis and precautionary principles, including an insurance premium system, hedging strategies, and inclusion of low-probability events in risk assessments.

A common approach of many regional and national developing country studies on mitigation and adaptation policies has been to focus on the assessment of context-specific vulnerabilities to climate change. Given this, a number of studies and national capacity-building efforts have considered how adaptation and mitigation policies can be integrated into national development and environmental policies, and how they can be supported by financial transfers, domestic funds, and linked to foreign direct investments (IINC, 2004; CINC, 2004). The Danish Climate and Development Action Program aims at a two-leg strategy, where climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation are assessed as an integral part of development plans and actions in Danish partner countries, and where GHG emission impacts and mitigation options are considered as part of policy implementation (Danida, 2005).

Burton et al. (2002) suggest that research on adaptation should focus on assessing the social and economic determinants of vulnerability in a development context. The focus of the vulnerability assessment according to this framework should be on short-term impacts, i.e. should try to assess recent and future climate variability and extremes, economic and non-economic damages and the distribution of these. Based on this, adaptation policies should be addressed as a coping strategy against vulnerability and potential barriers, obstacles, and the role of various stakeholders and the public sector should be considered. Kelly and Adger (2000) developed an approach for assessing vulnerabilities and concluded that the vulnerability and security of any group is determined by resource availability and entitlements. The approach is applied to impacts from tropical storms in coastal areas inVietnam.

On a global scale, there is a growing recognition of the significant role that developing countries play in determining the success of global climate change policies, including mitigation and adaptation policy options (Müller, 2002). Many governments of developing countries have started to realize that they should no longer discuss whether to implement any measures against climate change, but how drastic these measures should be, and how climate policies can be an integral part of national sustainable development paths (SAINC, 2003; IINC, 2004; BINC, 2004; CINC, 2004; MOST, 2004).