Guest Article #93

Synergies Between Mitigation and Adaptation Exist in Several Sectors

According to a new study commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, harnessing adaptation-mitigation synergies can serve as an important component in building the necessary knowledge base, institutional capacity and sectorial collaboration that effective climate policy in the 21st century will require.

Concrete action and the required climate funding are lagging behind the levels needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change as emissions continue to rise. While the impacts of climate change are increasingly being felt in different parts of the world, there is an urgent need to engage societies more broadly into climate action, to seek new funding sources, and to ensure that the current and future funding is used in the most efficient and effective manner.

One potential way to address these needs is to systematically identify and promote synergies and avoid trade-offs among mitigation and adaptation actions, as suggested by a new study commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers (Scoping study on financing adaptation-mitigation synergy activities). Harnessing synergies could simultaneously guide economies towards low/zero-emission pathways and accelerate adaptation and required resilience building.

While the landscape of current research on mitigation and adaptation synergies remains rather scattered and limited, examples that demonstrate promising potential for synergies have been identified in several sectors. In particular the agriculture, forestry and land use sectors demonstrate most potential playing a key role in both mitigation and adaptation. In addition, recent studies and experiences in the field identify potential for synergies in the energy, infrastructure planning and construction, transportation, insurance and waste treatment sectors.

Funding criteria needs to support harnessing synergies 

While the pool of current research clearly indicates that these synergies exist, assessing the magnitude of the potential and the associated costs and benefits remains a challenge. Instead of trying to marry adaptation and mitigation in all cases, it can at times be justified to focus on mitigation and, for example, energy security or health synergies, while in other cases, focus should be on adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) or gender equality synergies. Further empirical research on existing synergies and concrete pilot studies can showcase under which criteria and how synergies can be harnessed and trade-offs avoided in the best possible way. This will help tackle concerns related to potentially higher transaction costs or challenges in project planning and monitoring when addressing mitigation and adaptation simultaneously.

Funding sources, channels and instruments are currently geared towards either mitigation or adaptation, primarily based on strict funding criteria of funding organizations. The major part of climate funding to date has been channeled through project-based activities. A practical first step could be for existing funds to study their funding criteria, and review and analyze synergies (and trade-offs) in their existing portfolios and analyze whether a proactive role in harnessing the synergies would be useful.

We cannot afford to work in silos

Efforts invested in demonstrating mitigation and adaptation synergies should not distract attention away from on-going climate change risk management activities. However, if properly addressed, synergies can serve as a key component in building the necessary knowledge base, institutional capacity and sectoral collaboration that effective climate policy in the 21st century will require. Comprehensive mainstreaming of climate change into various sectors, policies and development plans requires a better understanding of the interlinkages between various climate mitigation and adaptation measures and other policy areas. This is a precondition for advancing from mainly project-based climate activities into more comprehensive (“whole of government/whole of community”) climate mainstreamed action.

Developing countries with high (and/or rapidly increasing) emissions and major vulnerabilities are well placed to harness synergies. Promising sectors are those that have major mitigation potentials and that have been a focus of national level adaptation plans. In addition, development in urban areas offers ample opportunities to harness synergies in building and infrastructure development. Taking note of the rapid urbanization processes globally, urban areas represent an important area for action and sharing of lessons learned for all cities globally.

The role of the private sector will remain central in ensuring sufficient climate funding, as well as efficient and effective implementation, but its role in systematically harnessing any synergies must be better understood. While the role of public climate finance remains only catalytic, it is absolutely crucial in building enabling environments and capacities that guide private sector funding to mainstream mitigation and adaptation aspects in their business development and investment decisions.