Decisions on tradeoffs between the immediate localised benefits of adaptation and the longerterm global benefits of mitigation would require information on the actions costs and benefits over time

For example, a relevant question would be whether or not investment in adaptation would buy time for mitigation. Global integrated assessment models provide approximate estimates of relative costs and benefits at highly aggregated levels. Intricacies of the interrelationships between adaptation and mitigation become apparent at the more detailed analytical and implementation levels [18.4.2]. These intricacies, including the fact that adaptation and mitigation operate on different spatial, temporal and institutional scales and involve different actors who have different interests and different beliefs, value systems and property rights, present a challenge to the practical implementation of trade-offs beyond the local scale. In particular the notion of an "optimal mix" of adaptation and mitigation is problematic, since it usually assumes that there is a zero-sum budget for adaptation and mitigation and that it would be possible to capture the individual interests of all who will be affected by climate change, now and in the future, into a global aggregate measure of well-being [18.4.2, 18.6.1].


Adaptation Mitigation

Mitigation Adaptation

Parallel decisions affecting adaptation and mitigation

Adaptation and mitigation trade-offs and synergies


Awareness of limits to adaptation motivates mitigation e.g., policy lobbying by ENGOs

CDM trades provide funds for adaptation through surcharges

Allocation of MEA funds or Special Climate Change Fund

Assessment of costs and benefits in adaptation and mitigation in setting targets for stabilisation

Regional/natural Watershed planning (e.g., strategy/sectoral planning hydroelectricity) and land cover, affect greenhouse gas emissions

Fossil fuel tax increases the cost of adaptation through higher energy prices

National capacity, e.g., self-assessment, supports adaptation and mitigation in policy integration

Testing project sensitivity to mitigation policy, social cost of carbon and climate impacts

Local/biophysical community and individual actions

Increased use of air-conditioning (homes, offices, transport) raises greenhouse gas emissions

Community carbon sequestration affects livelihoods

Local planning authorities implement criteria related to both adaptation and mitigation in land-use planning

Corporate integrated assessment of exposure to mitigation policy and climate impacts

Table TS.7. Relationships between adaptation and mitigation [F18.3]. ENGO = Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation; CDM = Clean Development Mechanism; MEA = Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Table TS.7. Relationships between adaptation and mitigation [F18.3]. ENGO = Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation; CDM = Clean Development Mechanism; MEA = Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

People's capacities to adapt and mitigate are driven by similar sets of factors.

These factors represent a generalised response capacity that can be mobilised in the service of either adaptation or mitigation. Response capacity, in turn, is dependent on the societal development pathway. Enhancing society's response capacity through the pursuit of sustainable development pathways is therefore one way of promoting both adaptation and mitigation [18.3]. This would facilitate the effective implementation of both options, as well as their mainstreaming into sectoral planning and development. If climate policy and sustainable development are to be pursued in an integrated way, then it will be important not simply to evaluate specific policy options that might accomplish both goals, but also to explore the determinants of response capacity that underlie those options as they relate to underlying socio-economic and technological development paths [18.3, 18.6.3].

TS.5.3 Key vulnerabilities

Key vulnerabilities are found in many social, economic, biological and geophysical systems.

Vulnerability to climate change is the degree to which geophysical, biological and socio-economic systems are susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse impacts of climate change. The term "vulnerability" may therefore refer to the vulnerable system itself (e.g., low-lying islands or coastal cities), the impact to this system (e.g., flooding of coastal cities and agricultural lands or forced migration), or the mechanism causing these impacts (e.g., disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet). Based on a number of criteria in the literature (i.e., magnitude, timing, persistence/reversibility, potential for adaptation, distributional aspects, likelihood and 'importance' of the impacts [19.2]), some of these vulnerabilities might be identified as 'key'. Key impacts and resultant key vulnerabilities are found in many social, economic, biological and geophysical systems [19.1.1].

The identification of potential key vulnerabilities is intended to provide guidance to decision-makers for identifying levels and rates of climate change that may be associated with 'dangerous anthropogenic interference' (DAI) with the climate system, in the terminology of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Article 2 [B19.1]. Ultimately, the determination of DAI cannot be based on scientific arguments alone, but involves other judgements informed by the state of scientific knowledge [19.1.1]. Table TS.8 presents an illustrative and selected list of key vulnerabilities.

Key vulnerabilities may be linked to systemic thresholds where non-linear processes cause a system to shift from one major state to another (such as a hypothetical sudden change in the Asian monsoon or disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet or positive feedbacks from ecosystems switching from a sink to a source of CO2). Other key vulnerabilities can be associated with "normative thresholds" defined by stakeholders or decision-makers (e.g., a magnitude of sea-level rise no longer considered acceptable by low-lying coastal dwellers) [19.1.2].

Increasing levels of climate change will result in impacts associated with an increasing number of key vulnerabilities, and some key vulnerabilities have been associated with observed climate change.

Observed climate change to 2006 has been associated with some impacts that can be linked to key vulnerabilities. Among these are increases in human mortality during extreme weather events, and increasing problems associated with permafrost melting, glacier retreat and sea-level rise [19.3.2,19.3.3,19.3.4,19.3.5,19.3.6].

Global mean temperature changes of up to 2°C above 1990-2000 levels would exacerbate current key vulnerabilities, such as those listed above (high confidence), and cause others, such as reduced food security in many low-latitude nations (medium confidence). At the same time, some systems such as global agricultural productivity at mid- and high-latitudes, could benefit (medium confidence) [19.3.1,19.3.2,19.3.3].

Global mean temperature changes of 2 to 4°C above 1990-2000 levels would result in an increasing number of key impacts at all scales (high confidence), such as widespread loss of biodiversity, decreasing global agricultural productivity and commitment to widespread deglaciation of Greenland (high confidence) and West Antarctic (medium confidence) ice sheets [19.3.1,19.3.4,19.3.5].

Global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 19902000 levels would lead to major increases in vulnerability (very high confidence), exceeding the adaptive capacity of many systems (very high confidence) [19.3.1].

Regions already at high risk from observed climate variability and climate change are more likely to be adversely affected in the near future, due to projected changes in climate and increases in the magnitude and/or frequency of already damaging extreme events [19.3.6,19.4.1].

The "reasons for concern" identified in the Third Assessment remain a viable framework to consider key vulnerabilities. Recent research has updated some of the findings from the Third Assessment.

Unique and threatened systems

There is new and much stronger evidence of the adverse impacts of observed climate change to date on several unique and threatened systems. Confidence has increased that a 1 to 2°C increase in global mean temperature above 1990 levels poses significant risks to many unique and threatened systems, including many biodiversity hotspots [19.3.7].

Extreme events

There is new evidence that observed climate change has likely already increased the risk of certain extreme events such as heatwaves, and it is more likely than not that warming has contributed to intensification of some tropical cyclones, with increasing levels of adverse impacts as temperatures increase [19.3.7].

Key systems or groups at risk

Prime criteria for 'key vulnerability'

Global average temperature change above 1990 0°C 1°C 2°C 3°C

4°C 5°C

Global social systems

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