Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience: The Three Pillars of the Response to Global Warming

Mitigation: Slowing the rate of global warming

The nations of the world are committed by the Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030. Each nation has filed its own plan to reduce emissions in its own territory, known as Nationally Determined Contributions. But this commitment will not stop global warming; it will only reduce the rate at which the earth is warming. Top policy makers and corporate leaders must think about how to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets from a legislative, technological, business, and even political perspective. In other words, there is no silver bullet to overcome increasing global temperatures. More ways must be found to reduce greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Decision makers at all levels need to recommit to finding ways to reduce even further the greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.

Adaptation: Taking steps to live with the effects of global warming

Our economies, our well-being, and in some cases, our abilities to continue living on the land we occupy will depend on how well we adapt to climate change. Adaptation can take many forms. Some communities may decide to build dikes, levees or sea walls to hold back water; others may want to move people and economic activity out of flood-prone areas. Farmers may choose to grow crops that are more suitable to warmer temperatures than the crops they are growing now, or that are more resistant to periods of drought. Communities that have never had to consider saving water may have to develop systems to hold rain water or mountain runoff for periods of drought. And many communities, particularly in the developing world or in tropical climates, may have to adjust their building codes so that homes, schools and public buildings can withstand more severe weather events.

Resilience: Nations need to become more resilient to the effects of climate change

Resilience means the key economic and social systems are climate-proofed for the future. It is not a question of if, but when: When the next storm hits, how prepared will you be? This issue is being addressed by communities around the world who are seeking—and finding—ways to be more resilient following a major natural disaster. Nations need to become more resilient to the effects of climate change. For example, flooding is the most costly and frequent natural disaster in many places around the world. The adoption of policy mandates that will provide flood insurance for high-risk areas is one answer. Those mandates can raise awareness among citizens and give peace of mind to those who need to be financially protected. But insurance against flood and storm damage can be prohibitive for the private sector alone, particularly in developing countries where housing construction may be relatively weak and many people don’t have the means to acquire it. Private and public partnerships can help mitigate some of the worst effects of natural disasters amplified by climate change by pooling resources and coming up with solutions that address what happens before, during, and after an extreme weather event. Resources can be made available to strengthen homes and other structures to better withstand extreme storms. And infrastructure for temporary evacuation and sheltering of vulnerable populations can be developed. But it is not just about extreme weather. Climate change is slow and inexorable, but the exact nature of the effects can be unpredictable. With rising temperatures around the globe comes more responsibility from the top down. How we consume our natural resources and integrate more proactive and continuous community planning will be instrumental in how resilient we are.