Mitigation, adaptation and resilience

It is hard in today’s world to avoid jargon, especially when it comes to the climate emergency we all face. Three words that often used are mitigation, adaptation and resilience. Steve Mewes, our Policy and Campaigns Manager, explains what you need to know about the differences.

Mitigation

Mitigation refers to efforts to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases. Mitigation can mean using new technologies and renewable energies, making older equipment more energy efficient, or changing individual behaviour to reduce carbon emissions.

Since the industrial revolution, we have been emitting more and more carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gasses) which has led to the climate emergency we are in. Any action which reduces our emissions or absorbs the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is a form of mitigation.

Children planting trees

Children planting trees - Niall Benvie

So, planting trees (the right ones and in the right place) is one way of working with nature to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as trees absorb the gas as part of their life cycle.

 

Eating more local food is another good example. Food that has travelled around the world has a large carbon footprint (more jargon for another blog!) so by buying more local food you are reducing the carbon cost of your lifestyle and helping to prevent further carbon emissions. Travelling on foot, cycling and using public transport, and installing solar panels to heat your home are also examples of mitigation.

Adaptation

Adaptation refers to humans adapting to life in a changing climate and adjusting to the actual or expected future climate. Adaptation encourages everyone to think about our likely climate future and plan ahead so we are not caught out when, for example, the rate of sea level rise increases or more droughts or storms occur. The goal is to reduce vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change such as higher sea levels, more extreme weather events or food insecurity.

In the right location, planting trees can also play an important role in climate adaptation; they stabilise the soil structure, meaning less soil is washed away in an intense rainstorm. When soil is washed away it reduces the ability of a field to produce food; the soil is also less able to store carbon, can support less biodiversity and the washed away soil can increase flood risks downstream.

Green roof

Green roof - Ryan Somma / Wikimedia Commons

Another example would be installing better flood defences to prepare for future sea level rise and higher peak river flows. Installing ‘green roofs’ is another example of adaptation as these roofs can help absorb rainwater, slowing the rate of run-off water and helping to reduce flooding, and can also help to keep urban areas cooler than traditional roof building materials during high temperatures.

Resilience

Resilience is a measure of an area’s ability to deal with the effects of climate change and ‘bounce back’ or recover from an event like a storm or an extreme high tide if one occurs. An example of way to become more resilient is sowing traditional grass seed mixes on grazing land; these tend to recover from a flood event far better than modern strains which have been bred for productivity.

Longrun meadow oak barn, flooded

Longrun meadow oak barn, flooded 

Cities with urban green space which could absorb flooding, especially by rivers or along coastlines would arguably be more resilient to the risk of flooding than those with businesses and homes in these areas. The green space such as flood plains, meadows, parks and sports fields can absorb the water and hold standing water, whereas businesses and homes would not, and would be vulnerable to flooding, harming people’s homes and livelihoods. It would be more difficult for the people and the economy in the area to ‘bounce back’ from the effects of a flood in this respect.

 

 

In summary: One of the effects of climate change is large, more severe storms. So, mitigation can help minimise climate change, so we don’t get increasingly severe storms, adaptation helps prepare for the more severe storms which we are already beginning to experience, and resilience helps us bounce back more quickly following these storms.

How do we take action to support mitigation, adapt and build resilience?

As you can see, there is a lot of cross-over between mitigation, adaptation and resilience. It is important we consider all three when it comes to tackling the climate emergency in order to best use our resources to provide multiple benefits. Natural solutions may be a great way of doing this.

Tree can absorb carbon dioxide from our atmosphere (mitigation) and specifically planting more trees to can help with this, as well as stabilising the soil structure to allow it to absorb more water to help prevent flooding too (adaptation).

Westhay Moor

Westhay Moor - Paul Eaton

Another good local example is the remaining peat in the Somerset Levels and Moors. When peat is dug up for compost, or farmed inappropriately, it dries up and releases the carbon stores it previously held. Digging peat or allowing it to dry out also means that the level of the land is lowered, making flooding more likely; it also reduces the land’s ability to store water and so further increases flooding risks.

It is important to restore peatlands and stop removing any peat that remains in order to store more carbon and water. As we know from the wetlands of the Avalon Marshes, peat also helps to support rare wildlife, so leaving it in the ground is vital on a number of levels.

Ultimately, natural solutions which can provide multiple benefits seem like an obvious answer to the risks we face, helping in the face of both the climate and ecological emergencies.

Though it is essential we learn to adapt to changes and have resilient infrastructure to ‘bounce back’ from climate events, arguably the most important action we can all take is to change the way we live and take action now to mitigate the damage, and prevent the climate and ecological emergencies from getting worse.

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg - Anders Hellburg / Wikimedia Commons

Through changing our own individual behaviour, and pressuring our leaders, government, businesses, media and educators, we can change the collective system that we live in – a system which currently prioritises profit, convenience and economic growth over the health of our planet, our wildlife and the lives of people today and in the future. Only then will we be acting “as if the house is on fire”.