I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 1:29 PM GMT on November 28, 2007
Iconic Figure: An Integrated Framework: Mitigation and Adaptation
In my class I have a set of figures that I call the "iconic figures" of climate change. There are only a handful of them, and they are the figures that I think all my students should be aware of and understand.
Figure 1: This figure from the 2001 IPCC Report introduces the terms “mitigation” and “adaptation” as the broadest areas of our decision to do something about climate change. The figure is discussed at length below.
This iconic figure shows the concepts that are used to discuss the climate change as a whole. It was originally called the integrated framework, and this version of the figure is taken from the IPCC 2001 report. This figure has been around in this basic form since at least the mid-1990s.
In the bottom left of the figure there is the oval labeled “Emissions and Concentrations.” This represents that the composition of the atmosphere is being changed through the addition of constituents that change the absorption and reflection of solar and infrared energy in the Earth’s atmosphere and at the Earth’s surface. These emissions are divided into two categories. The first category is greenhouse gases, which are long-lived enough that they are distributed throughout the atmosphere. What we are concerned with in human impacts on the planet are those emissions which come directly from activities that support human activities. The greenhouse gas emissions most directly related to human activities are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, the chlorofluorocarbons, and methane. The second category of emissions is aerosols, which are particulates in the atmosphere. In comparison with the greenhouse gases, aerosols are not evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere. Also, they do not stay in the atmosphere as long as the green house gases.
Through the changes in absorption and reflection of solar and infrared energy, the Earth’s temperature structure will change. Focusing only on the greenhouse gases, the addition of greenhouse gases will hold heat near the surface for a longer time before it is returned to space. The Earth’s surface will warm; the upper atmosphere will cool. This warming near the surface is the cause of “Climate Change;” the upper left oval. There are many consequences of warming the surface, but rising temperature, melting of ice on the land, and changes in the weather are all certain. The melting of ice on land will lead to more water in the ocean, and the sea encroaching on the land.
What to do? At the most basic level there are two choices. Do something or don’t do anything. It is reasonable to conclude that changes to climate of the magnitude that is predicted will be consequential; humans will be impacted; non-human ecosystems will be impacted. (The oval on the top right named, “Impacts on Human and Natural Systems.”) The impacts can be positive or negative. Most current analyses are that the sum total of the consequences will be negative. Therefore, many reach the conclusion to do something, and what to do falls into two large categories.
Mitigation is doing something to stop the increase of greenhouse gases. Adaptation is doing things to adapt to the particulars of climate change. With this simple split of responses, there are many paths of analysis that can be explored. There are, perhaps, philosophical paths. Until recently public discussion of adaptation was muted. Some maintained that if we allowed the possibility of adaptation, then we would forget about mitigation. There are paths that allow us to think about businesses: The impact of expenditures on adaptation strategies are relatively easily to evaluate. Because greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for many years, expenditures on mitigation are difficult to evaluate and their benefit is realized long into the future compared with lifetime investment planning, if not human lifetimes. There are political, environmental, economic, scientific, management, and more ways to think about mitigation and adaptation. It is safe to conclude that we will be compelled to adapt to climate change, and we have a responsibility for mitigation. Some would argue that our ultimate survival depends on mitigation.
What we do, our choices about mitigation and adaptation are represented in the square named “Socio-Economic Development Paths.” These socio-economic development paths range from “Business as Usual” to ideas of managing and engineering our pollutants, de facto our climate, through policy, economics, and technology.
There are two other terms that require definition at this level of looking at the problem. The first is “geo-engineering.” Some people consider geo-engineering to be adaptation. Some consider it a type of mitigation. In the same spirit that we did not talk about adaptation for a long time, geo-engineering has, until recently, been a muted topic of conversation. The argument would be that if we think that we can engineer the climate to our liking, then we will not be motivated to mitigate climate change. Opinion: Geo-engineering needs to be in our portfolio, especially if you count amongst geo-engineering strategies of the storage of carbon dioxide underground (sequestration) or removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The next term that is fundamental is “resilience.” Resilience is how well we are able to adapt. It is intuitive, mostly, that more technologically advanced societies are more resilient, better able to build seawalls, floating cities, and indoor environments. Increased resilience is also a possible planning or investment path.
These are basic definitions that are central to the discussion, argument, planning, and organization of climate change. Here is, once again, the link to the IPCC glossary which has more complete definitions and nuances on terms. Also here is a powerpoint presentation that I have put together on mitigation and adaptation. It might not be the most exciting, but it is, perhaps, useful.
Powerpoint (PPT) Mitigation and Adaptation
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