Climate Change Adaptation vs. Mitigation

When discussing action against climate change, we frequently hear the words “mitigation” and “adaptation” floating around.  While often used interchangeably, the terms indeed have distinct meanings and roles, in the process of preparing for a changing climate.  The main difference between mitigation and adaptation revolves around purpose, and timing of implementation.

In theory, mitigation is the stronger approach.  Climate change mitigation seeks to avoid the problems of climate change before they occur.  It is accomplished by offsetting the causes that then create the effects.  Mitigation strategies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced.  These strategies can also include the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  Essentially, mitigation’s objective is to reduce and prevent the causes of climate change.

However, climate change is by nature a global issue.  Actions taken in one part of the world inevitably impact all other parts of the world.  Thus, while mitigation is the goal, the undeniable forces nature require imminent attention.  This is where adaptation comes in.

Climate change adaptation seeks to prepare communities for existing and projected climate change, equipping them with the infrastructure and resources to stay safe.  When possible, adaptation also seeks to preserve as much as it can, whether it be built infrastructure, lifestyles, or economies.  Notably, adaptation goes beyond just coping.  As was noted by climate scientists in the PEI Climate Change Adaptation Recommendations Report, adaptation requires developing a “planned, informed, forward-looking, and thorough approach”.

While we must never abandon a vision for climate change mitigation, the process of climate change adaptation is a process of great significance in many communities across the world today.  This is particularly important in the communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including First Nations communities.  In First Nations communities, adaptation practices focus on the preservation of space and place, engaging the work of many stakeholders.  Strong, unique adaptation plans for First Nations communities and their climate needs are essential in the movement to preserve traditional lands, lifestyles, and economies.


(Author Credit: Charlotte Corelli)