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Climate change: Adaptation vs mitigation - Insights from 4 leaders

Adaptation or mitigation? Experts weigh in what's needed now when coping with the worst impacts of climate change.

Adaptation or mitigation? Experts weigh in what's needed now when coping with the worst impacts of climate change. Image: World Economic Forum

Gayle Markovitz
Acting Head, Written and Audio Content, World Economic Forum
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SDG 13: Climate Action

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  • If the climate crisis is already here, should efforts be focused on mitigation or adaptation?
  • The Forum’s special Agenda Dialogue on The Geo-Economics of Climate Change at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings looked at how intervention and adjustments might work in parallel.
  • The task will require a macro- and a micro-level effort to both adapt to and mitigate against climate change at the highest policy level and also on the frontline.

More than half of adults globally say climate change has already had a “severe” impact on their lives. A recent survey found that in 27 countries, over a third expect to be forced from their homes by climate change within 25 years and seven in ten expect severe impacts to affect their countries within the next decade.

Gim Huay Neo, Managing Director, Head of the Centre for Nature and Climate, World Economic Forum is unequivocal: “We are in a climate crisis”, she says, “Across the world, people already feel the effects today and fear for their futures tomorrow".

Half the world has just emerged from a summer of blistering heat with some of the highest temperatures on record. There’s been catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, wildfires in North America and Europe, and a hurricane this week has ravaged the Dominican Republic. Climate change is already altering lives, disrupting supply chains, threatening health and shaking the global economy.

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So if the climate crisis is here, should efforts be focused on mitigation (what the IPCC defines as ‘an intervention’) or climate change adaptation (what they define as ‘an ‘adjustment’)?

The IPCC has stressed that "no single option is sufficient by itself." As leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the Forum’s special Agenda Dialogue on The Geo-Economics of Climate Change at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings looked at how interventions and adjustments might work in parallel and explained how to move beyond abstract pledges towards comprehensive action.

The message was clear: The task will require a macro- and a micro-level effort to both adapt to and mitigate against climate change concurrently. Importantly, this means that the people affected most must be fully engaged and enabled to bring solutions to bear.

“You shouldn’t be choosing between adaptation and mitigation”, said Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Egypt, and those on the "frontline" hold the key to finding and implementing the solutions, added Bezos Earth Fund's Andrew Steer.

Here are four perspectives from leaders on mitigation and adaptation - and what's needed to truly make progress for the climate.

‘Engage all stakeholders’ to combat climate change

Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt

With Egypt preparing to host COP27 in November, Al-Mashat explained that her country will be pushing for “all stakeholders to be engaged” with the international community, financing, philanthropy and individual responsibility - all playing a key role. Her vision is to transform the strong private-sector pledges that came out of COP26 in Glasgow last year into real-world scenarios reaching “countries that need them the most”. She says financing needs to be redirected to the developing world and food security must be a priority.

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'Environmental justice for those on the frontline'

Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bezos Earth Fund

Andrew Steer spoke of “environmental justice”. He said we need to avoid the more “technocratic approaches” of the past and focus on giving solutions to the people on the frontline. “We need to provide resources to enable those on the frontline to become more resilient and to adapt.” But he highlighted the fact that “these same people are also the source of the solution” to the impacts of climate change.

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He expressed optimism at the will of a new generation of leaders to do things differently and to change existing structures and reinforced the importance of putting justice and climate at the centre.

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‘Change how we do farming’

Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International ASA

Holsether expressed his view that the food system has been weakened as a result of climate change - even without the shocks of war and pandemic that have exacerbated the current food crisis. He says that while “no one is more vulnerable to climate change than farmers”, they also hold the keys to finding the solutions with 31% of greenhouse gases coming from agriculture. He worries about productivity in the light of recent climate events, but thinks the short-term action must be to get products moving, whereas long-term, “we need to change how we do farming”.

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‘Holistic business to government approach’

Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland

The importance of a digitalized, strategic approach to climate change solutions that is also holistic and inclusive at the local level is key to a solutions-focused plan for mitigation and adaptation, said Ville Skinnari.

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