When I tell someone I’m interested in climate change adaptation, I usually get one of two questions: “Cool. What does that mean?” or “Really? Have you given up on climate change mitigation/stopping climate change that easily?”
The first is usually fun to answer; the latter can be frustrating. Many individuals working on climate change issues argue that a shift towards climate adaptation efforts undermines the continued, more pressing need to halt climate change, mitigate carbon emissions, do whatever we can to save us from some of the most terrifying projections for the future of our planet. Adaptation is distracting, defeatist, unambitious, some might say. But here is an undeniable reality– climate change is here and has been here. We live in an age of change and subsequent, desperately needed adaptation. Communities around the world are adapting to climate change as I write this, and through their adaptation, they are mitigating climate change. It seems obvious, yet sometimes it is necessary to state it anyways, that mitigation through adaptation and vice versa are inevitable notions (and fortuitous partners) all climate change and development practitioners, policymakers, and academics ought to embrace.
But what does this “mitigation through adaptation” look like? David Lobell at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment gives us a great answer:
A new study shows that when it comes to agriculture, adaptation measures can also generate significant mitigation effects, making them a highly worthwhile investment.
Food production is big. If farmers fail to adapt to climate change we can expect to see more land being turned over to agriculture, in order to keep up with food demand. With this in mind, David Lobell, from Stanford University, US, and colleagues used a model of global agricultural trade to investigate the co-benefits of helping farmers adapt to climate change, thereby avoiding some of the emissions associated with land-use change.
Running their model to 2050, they show that an investment of $225 bn in agricultural adaptation measures can be expected to offset the negative yield impacts associated with predicted temperature and rainfall changes. But that’s not all – the model revealed that this investment would also save 61 million hectares from conversion to cropland, resulting in 15 Gtonnes carbon-dioxide equivalent fewer emissions by 2050. (From FSI, emphasis added)
The full findings can be found here.
The adaptation and mitigation communities should not be polarized, but must work together if there are any hopes of achieving meaningful change. So whether adaptation is helping us all mitigate carbon emissions by saving land from conversion to cropland, or by encouraging infrastructure updates that make our communities more resilient but also efficient (and therefore less carbon-intensive), it is clear that we all have a lot to learn from each other.
Aristotle would tell us that our “whole” can be greater than the sum of our parts.
These types of tensions are very common, and I might take a risk and say most common in the environment world. An emerging conversation outside the scope of this blog but worth a mention is that around a shift from a paradigm of sustainability to one of resilience. Should we “forget sustainability“? I don’t think so, just as we should not “forget” mitigation in our search for adaptation.
Sustainability, resilience, mitigation and adaptation. All have a place in a world facing climate change.