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

11.9 Mitigation and adaptation - synergies and trade-offs

This section brings together the effects of climate change on mitigation action and the effects of mitigation action on adaptation as identified in Chapters 4 to 10 above. The topic of adaptation-mitigation linkage is covered in Chapter 2, Section 6, and IPCC (2007b, Chapter 18), which is the main reference for concepts, definitions, and analyses. The issue of adaptation-mitigation linkages, particularly when exploring synergies, is fairly nascent in the published literature: Barker (2003) and Dessai and Hulme (2003) analyze mitigation and adaptation linkages as fairly distinctive responses within the context of integrated assessment models; while Dang et al. (2003) and Klein et al. (2003) have more explicitly addressed the issue of whether and how mitigation and adaptation measures could be more effectively integrated as an overall response to the threat of climate change. Tol (2005) argues that adaptation and mitigation are policy substitutes and should be analyzed as an integrated response to climate change. However, they are usually addressed in different policy and institutional contexts, and policies are implemented at different spatial and temporal scales. This hampers analysis and weakens the trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation. An exception is facilitative adaptation (enhancing adaptive capacity). Like mitigation, it requires long-term policies at the macro-level, but they also compete for resources.

At the national level, mitigation and adaptation are often cast as competing priorities for policy makers (Cohen et al., 1998; Michaelowa, 2001). In other words, interest groups will fight about the limited funds available in a country for addressing climate change, providing analyses of how countries might then make optimal decisions about the appropriate adaptation-mitigation ‘mix’. Using a public choice model, Michaelowa (2001) finds that mitigation will be preferred by societies with a strong climate protection industry and low mitigation costs. Public pressure for adaptation will depend on the occurrence of extreme weather events. As technical adaptation measures will lead to benefits for closely-knit, clearly defined groups who can organize themselves well in the political process, these will benefit from subsidy-financed programmes. Changes in society will become less attractive as benefits are spread more widely.

Nonetheless, at the local level, there is a growing recognition that there are in fact important overlaps, particularly when natural, energy and sequestration systems intersect. Examples include bioenergy, forestry and agriculture (Morlot and Agrawala, 2004). This recognition is thought to be particularly relevant for developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, which rely extensively on natural resources for their energy and development needs. More specifically, there is a growing literature analyzing opportunities for linking adaptation and mitigation in agroforestry systems (Verchot, 2004; Verchot et al., 2005), in forestry and agriculture (Dang et al., 2003), and in coastal systems (Ehler et al., 1997).