Adaptation and mitigation - Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin (COBAM)

Adaptation and mitigation

What are mitigation and adaptation?
Mitigation and adaptation are the two strategies for addressing climate change. Mitigation is an intervention to reduce the emissions sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Adaptation is an ‘adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities’ (IPCC 2001).


How do adaptation and mitigation differ?
Adaptation and mitigation present some notable differences, particularly in their objectives. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change (accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere), whereas adaptation addresses the impacts of climate change. Both approaches are needed. On the one hand, even with strong mitigation efforts, the climate would continue changing in the next decades and adaptation to these changes is necessary. On the other hand, adaptation will not be able to eliminate all negative impacts and mitigation is crucial to limit changes in the climate system.

What are the other differences between adaptation and mitigation?
Adaptation and mitigation differ in terms of spatial scales: even though climate change is an international issue, adaptation benefits are local and mitigation benefits are global. Adaptation and mitigation also differ in terms of temporal scales and concerned economic sectors (Tol 2005).

Mitigation Adaptation
Spatial scale Primarily an international issue, as mitigation provides global benefits Primarily a local issue, as adaptation mostly provides benefits at the local scale
Time scale Mitigation has a long-term effect because of the inertia of the climatic system Adaptation can have a short-term effect on the reduction of vulnerability
Sectors Mitigation is a priority in the energy, transportation, industry and waste management sectors Adaptation is a priority in the water and health sectors and in coastal or low-lying areas
Both mitigation and adaptation are relevant to the agriculture and forestry sectors

Download background document