The policy debate on climate change distinguishes two generic response options. The first (and more prominent) option is mitigation. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change by reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The second response is adaptation. Adaptation deals with the consequences of climate change and seeks to reduce the vulnerability of human and natural systems to a shift in climate regime. This Perspective paper sets out the case for adaptation, complementing and building on chapter 6 by Bosello, Carraro, and De Cian (Bosello et al. 2010). Both chapter 6 and this Perspective paper aim to answer the same question: What is the role of adaptation in the international policy response to climate change? Bosello et al. 2010 approach the question from a modelling point of view, using an integrated assessment model (IAM) that explicitly includes both adaptation and mitigation. This Perspective paper seeks to extract answers from the wider literature, rather than through bespoke modelling work.

The Perspective paper is structured as a set of six theses that I believe are central to the adaptation debate and can help to frame the question at hand, and deals with each of them in turn:

  1. A minimum level of adaptation is now unavoidable
  2. Adaptation and mitigation are complements, but making the trade-off is hard
  3. Adaptation can have massive net benefits
  4. Adaptation goes hand in hand with development
  5. The timing and sequencing of adaptation action matters
  6. Uncertainty matters.


Fankhauser, S. September 2010. Market and policy driven adaptation: an alternative perspective. Smart Solutions to Climate Change [Bjørn Lomborg ed.]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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