Climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience

Some of you know that, for the last few years, I’ve been involved in running the Oxford Adaptation Academy, an annual summer school, offered through GCAP and the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment (part of the Department of Geography at the University of Oxford). My particular remit has been the personal development and change module. This forthcoming year, we are having a bit of reshaping, and I’m taking on a slightly larger role, helping to coordinate the learning throughout the whole programme and across the different modules.

This tends to mean that I end up having conversations at parties that take the form of, “I’ve heard about climate change, and figured I understood that, but these days I often hear people speak about adaptation. What’s that?”.

I was writing something the other day and had to come up with working definitions for the three main ways of dealing with climate change – mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. I thought they might be useful to a few of you.

  • Climate mitigation – offsetting the negative impact of climate change (or factors that contribute to it) in one place, by a positive impact somewhere else. For example, reducing pollution in one place to such an extent that it mitigates for an increase in pollution somewhere else. One of the earliest responses to climate change, this is considered flawed because the environment in the first place is still being damaged – often irrevocably.
  • Climate adaptation – where efforts are made to adapt to the impact of climate change in a particular place (or on a particular community) so that, while life there may be different to the past, it can continue. For example, developing and then growing drought resistant crops in an area that didn’t previously need them, or moving an agricultural community to a place where there are better conditions for them to farm.
  • Climate resilience – making changes in a community or place, so that despite climatic variation in the area, the whole ‘ecosystem’ continues in a sustainable fashion, albeit in a different way to the past.

I know that some of you are well versed in these things and can probably help me refine these considerably. If so, do let me know how you would improve them!

Best wishes
Dr Graham Wilson

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