Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Previously in T10 I have discussed solutions to the various problems thrown up in each section at the end of that section, but as climate change is being treated in Section 10 as a special case, with webpages 10.3 and 10.4 devoted to it, I thought it logical to discuss solutions immediately, so have included such here.

Every ‘solution’ mentioned to date in the other sections of T10 will have benefit for climate change, be it reduced consumption, more protected habitat, or lower population and energy use. This said, responses to the huge problem of climate change are generally bundled into two groups: mitigation actions and adaptation actions. A selection of these actions can be visualised in a Venn diagram thus:

(Green Resilience Strategies/MacLeod, D. 2017. Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Synergies).


Many of the actions suggested will be recognised from previous T10 sections, though it must be pointed out that this diagram would be criticised by Harich and others (see Section 4.5) for failing to deal with deep drivers, fundamental structuring factors, such as the insatiable desire for growth and its expression through consumption and population. Failure to address these root causes will leave responses restricted largely to addressing symptoms. Nonetheless, the diagram is useful in mentioning a number of common actions or proposals worldwide, and the extensive overlap between the two spheres.

1. Mitigation

“Mitigation (of climate change): a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”1

Mitigation is straightforward conceptually, but difficult in practice. The engine of growth is powered by energy generated from fossil fuels which releases CO2. This is not easily reduced, let alone stopped, or substituted, or captured and stored (see Section 8, ‘Energy’).

To achieve mitigation we must have a plan and agreement, and this, globally, is ‘The Paris Agreement’, which is summarised by the auspicing authority – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)2:

“The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP (Conference of the Parties) 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.

“Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

“To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.”

The agreement and process have been summarised in a Youtube clip: The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC .

As we well know, warming is already + 1 degree Celsius3, so there is little room left to manoeuvre. The IPCC’s latest report, AR6, reinforces this ‘diminishing window of opportunity’ re GHG emissions1:

“Total net anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to rise during the period 2010–2019, as have cumulative net CO2 emissions since 1850. Average annual GHG emissions during 2010–2019 were higher than in any previous decade, but the rate of growth between 2010 and 2019 was lower than that between 2000 and 2009. (high confidence) (Figure SPM.1) {Figure 2.2, Figure 2.5, Table 2.1, 2.2, Figure TS.2}; and

“B.1.1 Global net anthropogenic GHG emissions were 59 ± 6.6 GtCO2-eq, in 2019, about 12% (6.5 GtCO2-eq) higher than in 2010 and 54% (21 GtCO2-eq) higher than in 1990.”

(IPCC.2022. Global Net Anthropogenic GHG Emissions 1990-2019. Depressingly, av. annual emissions were higher 2010-19 than any previous decade, but hopefully, the rate of growth was lower than 2000-2009).


The Paris Agreement sets out to help countries meet the agreed target via three means: financial, technical, and capacity-building. For instance, re ‘Finance’, the UNFCCC says2:

“The Paris Agreement reaffirms that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable, while for the first time also encouraging voluntary contributions by other Parties. Climate finance is needed for mitigation, because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.” < The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC >.

The latest meeting of parties was in Glasgow in 2021 (COP 26) and there were further commitments to these broad areas, with, for instance, market mechanisms being established for emissions trading:

  • “Firstly, guidance was adopted for cooperative approaches – where Parties in bilateral arrangements recognize the transfer of emission reductions between them. This enables mitigation programmes like emission trading systems in countries to link to each other.
  • “Secondly, rules, modalities and procedures were adopted for the new UNFCCC Mechanism, which credits emission reducing activities. This enables a company in one country to reduce emissions in that country and have those reductions credited so that it can sell them to another company in another country. That second company may use them for complying with its own emission reduction obligations or to help it meet net-zero.”      < COP26 Outcomes: Market mechanisms and non-market approaches (Article 6) | UNFCCC >.

The pricing, trading or taxing of carbon is a huge and controversial area beyond the current scope of T10. A strong and punchy criticism that summarises most of the main objections can be read here: Six Arguments Against Carbon Trading | Climate & Capitalism ( , by Larry Lohmann4, and the nub of the problem is one encountered so often in T10, as well as in all environmental endeavours, organisations, projects and campaigns: do we change, but use, existing structures and entities, or is fundamental change and the creation of new mechanisms, entities, and processes, required? The UNFCCC seems to be ‘having a bet both ways’ with a wide range of actions suggested, but on the whole, they have opted for the more conservative adaptation of the existing system.

As we know, technology is often used as a panacea for modern ills; a solution that – superficially – doesn’t require revolutionary change. The UNFCCC has a whole technology section on its website under the banner of ‘Climate action’ and there’s an interesting article listing five, green, ‘projects/technologies’ that they “love” – 5 Green Tech Projects We Love | UNFCCC , as well as more radical ‘frontier technologies’ – Frontier Technology | UNFCCC. To give you the flavour of the five, ‘green’ technologies, they are:

  • Huniflex – an Indonesian company – aiming to build movable, prefabricated, downsized houses which can be moved from location to location;
  • Capomaso is aiming to enhance supply chain effectiveness via digital vehicle route planning;
  • Kasana, from Uganda, wants to leverage green, affordable, shareable, energy technologies, e.g. PVCs, to build livelihoods and enhance communities;
  • io, based in Germany, has developed an energy management software suite to continuously monitor and optimize the operation of heat networks4.0, an innovative heating network with a predominant share of renewable energies; and
  • Carbon Tag – a UK-based start-up – focusing on calculating and communicating CO2 emissions in the food industry.

The list above is beginning to draw us back to the smaller scale and the domestic, as per Section 2 of T10, ‘Consumption’, but to return to the large scale of this section, we presented the detailed work of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on what a ‘carbon-neutral’ 2050 would look like from a renewable energy perspective5, in Section 8.5, ‘Energy’, and it is worth displaying again here:

(IRENA. 2022. Reducing Emissions by 2050 Through Six Technological Avenues).


70% of the ‘solution’ is seen to be through just three measures: renewables, energy efficiency, and electrification. IRENA’s work is impressive, but perhaps overly optimistic and ‘techno-utopian’, as much of the efficiency ‘low-hanging fruit’ has already been ‘picked’, and Hydrogen and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is, perhaps, problematic at best. We also examined CCS in Section 8 (8.4), and aired both more optimistic and pessimistic views, but I concluded that these projects “require so much energy, even if biofuel energy (as recommended by Randers6), as to make it seemingly impossible that the environmental disbenefits from obtaining and burning this energy could be outweighed by the environmental benefits of removal of a portion of CO2. Like hydroelectricity, I think it looks environmentally attractive only when highly selective parameters are applied that eliminate most damages and highlight benefits”.

The IPCC (Wk. Grp. III1) has produced an excellent figure listing potential mitigation actions against emissions reduction and colour-coded for cost in its SPM.7, reproduced here. (The further the bar extends to the right the greater the emission reduction, and the lighter orange/brown or blue the colour, the cheaper the action per tonne of GHG reduced).

43 actions are listed in six broad categories (all self-explanatory, except ‘AFOLU’ which means ‘Agriculture, Forestry, Other Land Use’). The ‘big-ticket’ items (as far as reductions are concerned) are:

  • Wind energy
  • Solar energy
  • Carbon sequestration in agriculture
  • Reduced conversion of forests and other ecosystems
  • Ecosystem restoration, afforestation, reforestation
  • Fuel switching (electricity, natural gas, bioenergy, Hydrogen).

As mentioned, I think increased use of renewables and ecosystem protection/restoration can and will have a very important role to play, but carbon sequestration is less clear, and I have a number of doubts about substitute fuels, aka ‘fuel switching’.

The mix and extent of these actions, as well as other actions not yet conceived or investigated, will lead to different emission levels. The IPCC has tried to project these policy scenariosibid. in graphical form from the completed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs; each Paris Agreement signatory has to complete these) as well as from implemented policies. NDCs are set at varying levels of ambition, hence the different colour groups as well as the ‘conditional’ and ‘unconditional’ elements. The key finding is as per the heading:

  • Projected global GHG emissions from current NDCs will make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and make it harder after 2030 to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.

In other words, the projection of current actions and commitments is for increasing emissions, though the curve is flattening (see pink on graph). Clearly, more, and ‘deeper’ action, is required, even if all these commitments are met. (We will not know the results of which until 2024 when reporting is due on progress on NDCs; I sincerely hope that the reporting demonstrates more ‘commitment’ and honesty than the reporting for the Convention on Biological Diversity – see 7.8).

(IPCC. 2022. Modelled pathways of current and proposed policy ‘bundles’ for global GHG emissions 2020-2100).


These problems aside, the main difficulty with these mitigation measures, be they listed by the UNFCCC, or suggested by IRENA or others, is that they make no, or little, mention of reduced energy consumption (or, indeed, any form of consumption/growth reduction). This will wipe out all and any gains via the Jevons Paradox (see Section 9.5).

2. Adaptation

The IPCC defines adaptation as7: “Adaptation plays a key role in reducing exposure and vulnerability to climate change. Adaptation in ecological systems includes autonomous adjustments through ecological and evolutionary processes. In human systems, adaptation can be anticipatory or reactive, as well as incremental and/ or transformational. The latter changes the fundamental attributes of a social-ecological system in anticipation of climate change and its impacts.” (Wk. Grp. II)

Adaptation tends to get little attention relative to mitigation, perhaps because it is misunderstood as accommodating of, or accepting of, climate change. This is true only so far as it acknowledges that climate change is happening now, and will continue to happen in future, no matter what happens, but not true in that it is passive and accommodating of this reality; it seeks to address it and reduce exposure and vulnerability through – hopefully – transformative actions that will, in turn, reduce future climate change, as well as the damage that it causes.

Adaptation is necessary because we know that we have raised global temperature by over one degree Celsius since 17503 and the greenhouse gases we have accumulated in the atmosphere are persistent and will affect future climate for quite some time, even if we cease all emissions tomorrow. Estimates vary, but CO2 can persist for anything from 20-200 years before being absorbed by the ocean, or even thousands of years if ocean absorption does not occur8. NO2 lasts in the atmosphere around 100 years, and Methane a decade or two.

As these gases accumulate in the atmosphere, temperature rises and risks, not surprisingly, increase. The IPCC has attempted to represent this relationship in the following figure9:

(IPCC. 2022. Global risks for increasing levels of global warming).


I have copied the components of the figure that concentrate upon ecosystems, and it is concerning to see that already – at 1 degree + levels of warming – that ‘Warm water corals’ and ‘Unique and threatened systems’ are in the red and purple zones of ‘High’ and ‘Very High’ Risk/impact. The degree to which further rises occur and how quickly, will depend on the various scenarios outlined in the graph at top left of the figure, where light blue is the most ambitious reduction scenario, and brown the least. Almost all ecosystem components, e.g. ‘Structure change’, or types, e.g. ‘Kelp forests’, begin to be exposed to high levels of risk/impact between one and two degrees temperature rise.

How, then, to respond to these risks? The IPCC summarises the response required thusibid.:

“SPM.C.2 There are feasible and effective adaptation options which can reduce risks to people and nature. The feasibility of implementing adaptation options in the near-term differs across sectors and regions (very high confidence). The effectiveness of adaptation to reduce climate risk is documented for specific contexts, sectors and regions (high confidence) and will decrease with increasing warming (high confidence). Integrated, multi-sectoral solutions that address social inequities, differentiate responses based on climate risk and cut across systems, increase the feasibility and effectiveness of adaptation in multiple sectors (high confidence).” Integrated and multi-sectoral responses seem to be the key here.

The IPCC then presents an interesting table that lists key risks and responses and gives them a feasibility ratingibid. (the larger the blue circle the more feasible). Synergies with mitigation are estimated also. Concentrating on the environment/ecosystems, as T10 does, we can see that four categories of action are listed, and that they all score ‘High-Medium’ for feasibility, and similar for synergies with mitigation. The four broad action categories are:

  • Forest-based adaptation (e.g. protection, revegetation)
  • Sustainable aquaculture and fisheries
  • Agroforestry
  • Biodiversity management and ecosystem connectivity
(IPCC. 2022. Key risks, feasible responses, and adaptation options).


The key role protecting and rehabilitating the environment will play in adaptation is further emphasised in the summary when the IPCC says it is “fundamental”ibid.:

“SPM.D.4 Safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems is fundamental to climate resilient development, in light of the threats climate change poses to them and their roles in adaptation and mitigation (very high confidence). Recent analyses, drawing on a range of lines of evidence, suggest that maintaining the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services at a global scale depends on effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas, including currently near-natural ecosystems (high confidence).”

Note, also, the tight tie-in here with the recommendations of Section 7, ‘Habitat’, that 30-50% of earth’s land, freshwater and oceans must be effectively conserved if global biodiversity resilience and ecosystem services are to be maintained.

Unfortunately, responses to climate impacts and risks is often short-term, rigid, engineering-heavy, single-focus, and expensive, e.g. concrete seawalls in response to coastal erosion; large-scale fire departments and infrastructure to burn the bush in response to increased fire risk; solar geoengineering to fill the atmosphere with particles to reflect sunlight back into space to keep the earth from warming (see 10.9, ‘Under a White Sky’). This is often maladaptation, not adaptation. In an attempt to reduce this type of response and to increase the long-term outlook and flexibility of responses, a new planning process has been developed called ‘adaptation pathways’. It can best be explained by the following brief – five minutes – video from Dutch research institute Deltares.

Adaptation Pathways – Bing video

The analogy with the pathways through the London Underground is made, and it is a good one as it emphasises different options and switching points on one’s journey. Adaptation Pathways do likewise, using best-available data, and collaborative planning, to map out pathways against time, cost and side effects. It is a wholistic process and a flexible one that is ideal for coping with uncertainty.

An example of a pathway is presented here by the IPCC in a ‘Fact Sheet – Australasia’10 for low-lying coastal areas in Australia and New Zealand subject to sea-level rise:

(IPCC. 2022. Fact Sheet – Australasia: Climate Change Impacts and Risks).


As can be seen, actions are grouped into three broad categories: retreat, accommodate, or protect. Figures along the bottom are for projected sea-level rise in metres.

The fact sheet goes on to list the barriers to adaptation in the region as:

“Adaptation progress is uneven, due to gaps, barriers and limits to adaptation, and adaptive capacity deficits (very high confidence). Barriers include lack of consistent policy direction, competing objectives, divergent risk perceptions and values, knowledge constraints, inconsistent information, fear of litigation, up-front costs, and lack of engagement, trust and resources.”

It then suggests the solution to these problems is:

“Key enablers for effective adaptation include shifting from reactive to anticipatory planning, integration and coordination across levels of government and sectors, inclusive and collaborative institutional arrangements, government leadership, policy alignment, nationally consistent and accessible information, decision-support tools, adaptation funding and finance, and robust consistent and strategic policy commitment. Focus on the role societal inequalities and environmental degradation play in generating climate change vulnerability can enable fairer adaptation outcomes.”

It seems that yet again a key problem we face in dealing with our current situation is sheer scale. The size of our impact requires commensurate response at a scale of co-operation, integration and resourcing hitherto unheard of on earth. The IPCC says9 that if we are to have a “liveable and sustainable future” we must achieve what we have never achieved before, and quickly:

“SPM.D.5.3 The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

To show that it is possible to adapt in clever and holistic ways, and in synchrony with natural systems, the Medmerry Managed Realignment Scheme on the West Sussex coast in the UK is one of the best I’ve seen. The area is low-lying and threatened by sea-level rise and flooding, and it was refreshing to see that the response was not the usual giant concrete seawall, but instead, the construction of a series of berms, swales and wetlands to absorb, buffer and manage rising waters, and to create additional wildlife and recreational resources. The official website11 describes the work and benefits as follows:






(Environment Agency, UK. 2012/2016. Medmerry Managed Realignment before [left] and after [right]).

“The project, delivered with the support of the RSPB and local communities, involved the construction of four miles of new sea defences to reduce the flood risk to hundreds of properties and created a new wetland for wildlife to flourish.” The total project cost was £28 million.

“Much of the Medmerry site is now managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve, and has become a wildlife haven with nesting sites among the pools supporting rare birds such as avocets, black-headed gulls, little ringed plovers and oystercatchers.”

Adrian Thomas, Medmerry project manager for the RSPB, said: “Throughout the creation of Medmerry, we looked constantly for win-wins. Here, local communities now get vastly improved flood protection, extensive new access, additional habitat for fish stocks and new saltmarshes for farmland grazing, while threatened wildlife gets a real boost. It is this multi-benefit approach that makes Medmerry such a role model.”

There is a good, five-minute video on the scheme here:

Medmerry video – Search (











1 IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change – Summary for Policy Makers; Working Group III Contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. WMO, UNEP, Geneva, Switzerland. < IPCC_AR6_WGIII_SPM.pdf >

(Note: The three key reports on climate change are the IPCC’s latest Sixth Assessment Reports I, II and III, dealing with the science, adaptation, and mitigation, respectively; the summaries will be more than enough for most at 30-50 pages or so, but for the keen, the full reports are available and run to 3,000 pages each and more).

2 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). < >

3 IPCC. 2021. Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., et. al. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USA.

4 Lohmann, L. 2008. Six Arguments Against Carbon Trading. Climate and Capitalism. Sept. 29th.  < Link >

5 International Renewable Energy Agency, 2022. World Energy Transitions Outlook 2022: 1.5 C Pathway. March, IRENA, Abu Dhabi.

6 Randers, J. 2012. 2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River, USA.

7 IPCC. 2018. Annex II Glossary. < Annex II – Glossary ( >

8 Forster, P., 2007. Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

9 IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities – Summary for Policy Makers; Working Group II Contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. WMO, UNEP, Geneva, Switzerland.

10 IPCC. 2022. Fact sheet – Australasia: Climate Change Impacts and Risks. (From Wk. Grp. II report, above).

11 Medmerry Managed Realignment Scheme < EA habitat creation and flood scheme leading the way on new ‘Global Standard’ for nature-based solutions – GOV.UK ( >.

Explore Other Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10.1 Introduction

Elizabeth Kolbert’s absorbing ‘Under a White Sky’1 (see 10.9) begins with a boat trip down the much-abused Chicago River in the USA. ‘Down’ doesn’t have much meaning here; just what is ‘upstream’, or ‘downstream’ on this poor river is a...

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Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses

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10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
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10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

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