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

2.5 Mitigation, vulnerability and adaptation relationships

2.5.1 Integrating mitigation and adaptation in a development context – adaptive and mitigative capacities

The TAR (IPCC, 2001) introduced a new set of discussions about the institutional and developmental context of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. One of the conclusions from that discussion was that the capacity for implementing specific mitigation and adaptation policies depends on man-made and natural capital and on institutions. Broadly speaking, institutions should be understood here as including markets and other information-sharing mechanisms, legal frameworks, as well as formal and informal networks.

Subsequent work by Adger (2001a) further emphasizes the role of social capital in adaptation. Adger refers to a definition by Woolcock and Narayan (2000, p. 226), which states that social capital is made up of ‘the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively’. According to Adger there are two different views within the main areas of the international literature that are important to climate change issues namely: 1) whether social capital only exists outside the state, and 2) whether social capital is a cause, or simply a symptom, of a progressive and perhaps flexible and adaptive society. The first issue relates to how important planned adaptation and government initiatives can be, and the second considers the macro-level functioning of society and the implications for adaptive capacity.

Adger observes that the role that social capital, networks and state-civil society linkages play in adaptive capacity can be observed in historical and present-day contexts by examining the institutions of resource management and collective action in climate-sensitive sectors and social groups, highlighting a number of such experiences in adaptation to climate change. The examples include an assessment of the importance of social contacts and socio-economic status in relation to excess mortality due to extreme heating, coastal defence in the UK, and coastal protection in Vietnam, where the adaptive capacity in different areas is assessed within the context of resource availability and the entitlements of individuals and groups (Kelly and Adger, 1999). A literature assessment (IPCC, 2007b, Chapter 20) includes a wider range of examples of historical studies of development patterns, thus confirming that social capital has played a key role in economic growth and stability.

IPCC (2001), Chapter 1 initiated a very preliminary discussion about the concept of mitigative capacity. Mitigative capacity (in this context) is seen as a critical component of a country’s ability to respond to the mitigation challenge, and the capacity, as in the case of adaptation, largely reflects man-made and natural capital and institutions. It is concluded that development, equity and sustainability objectives, as well as past and future development trajectories, play critical roles in determining the capacity for specific mitigation options. Following that, it can be expected that policies designed to pursue development, equity and/or sustainability objectives might be very benign framework conditions for implementing cost-effective climate change mitigation policies. The final conclusion is that, due to the inherent uncertainties involved in climate change policies, enhancing mitigative capacity can be a policy objective in itself.

It is important to recognize here that the institutional aspects of the adaptive and mitigative capacities refer to a number of elements that have a ‘public-good character’ as well as general social resources. These elements will be common framework conditions for implementing a broad range of policies, including climate change and more general development issues. This means that the basis for a nation’s policy-implementing capacity exhibits many similarities across different sectors, and that capacity-enhancing efforts in this area will have many joint benefits.

There may be major differences in the character of the adaptive and mitigative capacity in relation to sectoral focus and to the range of technical options and policy instruments that apply to adaptation and mitigation respectively. Furthermore, assessing the efficiency and implementability of specific policy options depends on local institutions, including markets and human and social capital, where it can be expected that some main strengths and weaknesses will be similar for different sectors of an economy.

As previously mentioned, the responses to climate change depend on the adaptive and mitigative capacities and on the specific mitigation and adaptation policies adopted. Policies that enhance adaptive and mitigative capacities can include a wide range of general development policies, such as market reforms, education and training, improving governance, health services, infrastructure investments etc.

The actual outcome of implementing specific mitigation and adaptation policies is influenced by the adaptive and mitigative capacity, and the outcome of adaptation and mitigation policies also depends on a number of key characteristics of the socio-economic system, such as economic growth patterns, technology, population, governance, and environmental policies.

It is expected that there may be numerous synergies and tradeoffs between the adaptive and mitigative capacity elements of the socio-economic and natural systems, as well as between specific adaptation and mitigation policies. Building more motorways, for example, can generate more traffic and more GHG emissions. However, the motorways can also improve market access, make agriculture less vulnerable to climate change, help in evacuation prior to big storms, and can support general economic growth (and thereby investments in new efficient production technologies). Similarly, increased fertiliser use in agriculture can increase productivity and reduce climate change vulnerability, but it can also influence the potential for carbon sequestration and can increase GHG emissions.