Does preparing for global warming mean we’ve given up? Why climate change adaptation and mitigation go hand-in-hand

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Does preparing for global warming mean we’ve given up? Why climate change adaptation and mitigation go hand-in-hand

The safer people feel, the less careful they tend to be. Some policymakers worry that this relationship also holds true in the realm of global warming, and that preparing for the damages caused by climate change could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recent research provides evidence that this is not the case – rather, combining these adaptation and mitigation strategies can help minimize the negative impact of climate change on environment, health, and economy. 

Urban, Jan, Davina Vačkářová, and Tomas Badura. “Climate Adaptation and Climate Mitigation Do Not Undermine Each Other: A Cross-Cultural Test in Four Countries.”Journal of Environmental Psychology77 (2021): 101658. 

The Paris Agreement saw 191 countries and the European Union vow to keep global warming below 2°C. International climate treaties, such as the Paris Agreement, have traditionally placed a disproportionate focus on reducing the causes of climate change over preparing for its impacts. However, since warming of 1.2°C has already occurred, scientists recognize that mitigation efforts limiting greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to prevent all the impacts of climate change. Consequently, cities and communities have begun to brace themselves against the changing climate by taking steps such as building flood defenses and planning for heat waves. These protective changes to behavior and infrastructure fall into the category of climate change adaptation. Some policymakers including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in his book Earth in the Balancehave expressed concern that focusing on adaptation could undermine climate change mitigation efforts. However, recent research shows that this is not the case. In fact, researchers report that adaptation efforts might increase public support for climate change mitigation. 


The notion that focusing on adaptation could undermine climate change mitigation stems from the belief that both strategies not only compete for the same economic resources but could also reduce people’s motivation to take action. This concern is based on experience with other types of risk. For example, the introduction of vehicle safety features in the 1960s did not reduce the number of traffic-related accidents as expected. It is thought that drivers felt safer with these new features and, therefore, used less caution when driving.    


A team of researchers, led by Dr. Jan Urban at the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, recently tested this belief in a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. The five studies were conducted in cities in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Participants were asked to first indicate their intention to engage in various mitigation actions (e.g., showering rather than bathing) before rating how supportive they were of different adaptation measures (e.g., fitting playgrounds with shading features), or vice versa. Some participants also indicated their belief that global warming is happening, that it is human-caused, and how worried they are about it. The researchers found that participants’ intention to engage in greenhouse gas reduction measures did not lessen their support for preparing for the impacts of climate change. In two studies, participants were even slightly more likely to express an intention to mitigate global warming after indicating support for climate change adaptation. The researchers suggest that expressing support for adaptation policies increased people’s concern about global warming. This concern heightened their desire to participate in mitigation efforts. 


Urban et al.’s study has important implications for policy makers considering strategies to address global warming. Rather than prioritize climate change adaptation or mitigation efforts, policy makers can support both strategies without reducing public desire for action. In fact, combining these efforts could help reinforce public support. Consequently, a two-pronged approachin which mitigation policies are complemented by efforts to adapt to climate changewill likely prove most effective for reducing the negative impacts of global warming on environment, health, and economy. 

You might like these articles that share the same topics