I started writing this blog because I noticed mitigation is conspicuously hard to find when reading about resilience. Climate change resilience is often used in tandem and sometimes interchangeably with the term ‘adaptation’. Examples of climate change resilience here, here and here, highlight that the roots of resilience to climate change stem from disaster risk reduction, ecology and sociology and usually suggest a concept of “bouncing back” or “recovery” from some shock or stress. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Working Group (WG) II Contribution to its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), defined resilience as “the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity of self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change.” This definition raises the question: why is a strategy (i.e. mitigation) that seeks to reduce the “stress” of greenhouse gases on the earth’s atmosphere not considered a form of resilience?
Is the reason mitigation has not emerged a popular strategy for building climate change resilience because the earth has not been able to retain its basic structure and function in absorbing greenhouse gases and so can basically never “bounce back” or “return to a former state”(based on the IPCC WG II AR4 definition of resilience)? Or perhaps because resilience has been a more popular term in the disaster risk reduction sector (which is characterized by more violent and extreme events), resilience has come to be framed more normatively in relation to the immediate and extreme impacts of climate change. Is this framing, the reason resilience is commonly applied in light of adaptation alone – as adaptation is a more immediate actionable strategy than mitigation? If so, within climate change issues which suffer from the back burner-effect already (see this blog post), mitigation then becomes the action that gets relegated to the background.
My problem with mitigation not being integral to the definition of climate change resilience, is that language matters. Since the concept of mitigation is not apparent in a number of definitions and conceptualizations of climate change resilience, it seems that so far, mitigation actions are being entirely left out of some of the efforts to build resilience to climate change. Nevertheless, the IPCC in the SPM of its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation stated that “…adaptation and mitigation can (emphasis mine) complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change.” Can? I would like to think should! Granted, mitigation was not the focus of the report (as the authors so graciously point out) but the example advances the notion that mitigation has not necessarily been viewed by scholars and practitioners as an ultimate compliment to adaptation efforts in building resilience to climate change.
However there appears to be hope. In the most recent IPCC Assessment Report (AR5), the WG II Contribution in its SPM discusses the concept of climate-resilient pathways, which it defines as “sustainable-development trajectories that combine adaptation and mitigation to reduce climate change and its impacts.” Could a concept described as resilient that combines both adaptation and mitigation be an indication that mitigation is beginning to enter the conversation about resilience? I would like to think yes!