We Should Connect Adaptation and Mitigation in New York City and Around the World

Connecting Adaptation and Mitigation in New York City and Around the World

Solar energy as part of the response to a climate disaster. www.smartplanet.com

When addressing climate change, we should look for every opportunity to implement solutions that help communities adapt to unavoidable climate change while simultaneously building their capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, all too often, adaptation and mitigation of climate change are viewed as competing or even mutually exclusive priorities.

Reactions to New York Mayor Bloomberg’s recently announced $20 billion climate change adaptation plan  illustrate this sort of response. Take for example this framing, from an opinion piece by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:

“Among climate-change activists, the realization is spreading that the combination of political inaction on greenhouse gases, plentiful new petroleum supplies and accelerating changes in weather patterns means there is no escaping more life-altering floods, droughts and fires. Although ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions could mitigate even worse catastrophe, momentum has shifted in part to preparing for the inevitable consequences of a warmer planet.”

That’s a shift that we can’t allow to happen because it will not be feasible to adapt to unmitigated climate change, which will bring with it too much warming, much too fast.

The good news is that mitigation and adaptation don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Problems are often interconnected but so are solutions, as Donella Meadows wrote.

In fact, identifying solutions that serve adaptation and mitigation is an underlying goal of several systems modeling studies at Climate Interactive (including projects on disaster risk reduction in Africa, and green infrastructure in the US). These projects are inspired by people around the world who are showing that we can prepare for unavoidable climate change while also taking action to stop root cause of future climate change. Here are a few examples, and we’d be very interested to hear of others you’ve observed or participated in:

— Ecosystem based adaptation — which restores wetlands, forests, mangroves, and shorelines to protect against flooding and storm surges  — simultaneously protects against climate impacts, sequesters carbon, and helps reinforce the mindset that human beings depend on a living planet for their survival, a mindset that can help build commitment to the tough choices required to address the root causes of climate change.

— Community organizing and connecting people to their neighbors helps create networks that allow for rapid response in a disaster and can also build the sense of empowerment needed to accomplish politically difficult tasks, like putting limits on greenhouse gas pollution.

–Incorporating distributed renewable energy into the energy mix of a community helps the lights stay on in a disaster and builds familiarity and comfort with new clean energy sources.

In addition to New York’s big new adaptation plan, the city has the ambitious mitigation goal of reducing emissions 30% by 2030. With their serious efforts on both fronts, let’s hope that New Yorkers will discover and share with the rest of us the state of art for blending adaptation and mitigation in mutually enhancing ways.


  1. If our leaders don’t act, we must create the change we need by electing new leaders who will. We can do it. We’ve done harder things before. But we have to act, now–MIT’s John Sterman is one of the world’s leading experts on systems thinking says:

    […] meaningful steps to build resilience and security throughout the nation.” There are potential synergies between adaptation and mitigation, and these should be exploited. For example, the RC4A recognizes […]