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Climate Change: Adaptation vs Mitigation
November 7, 2021 0

What is the best way to deal with climate change? adapt to the new reality or work on mitigating our actions?

Climate change has become a natural reality on the planet after the world has historically been exposed to fluctuations in the indicators of the climate system, including global greenhouse gases, rising land and ocean temperatures, sea level rise, melting ice and retreating glaciers, and extreme weather. All of this is not strange, but what we are witnessing at the present time from climatic repercussions are unprecedented through history, the most important of which is the high level of carbon dioxide (Co2). This led to an increase in the average temperature by 1.18 degrees during 100 years, and most of this rise occurred in the last 40 years.

It is worth noting that the period between 2016 to 2020 is considered one of the hottest years. The study published by nature.com reported that a large proportion of the change is caused by humans, which constituted 95% of the causes of climate change in our time.

Scientifically speaking, the biggest cause of climate change or global warming is greenhouse gas emissions, particularly water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

These gases impede the penetration of solar rays reflected from the Earth’s surface into outer space because they absorb solar thermal radiation and keep it trapped in the atmosphere, which raises the Earth’s temperature. The three basic areas in the human life that are considered the main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions are “energy, deforestation, and industrial waste”. Let’s start first with energy, especially electric power generation, transportation and others. As for the field of industry, it represents at least half of the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in 2017[1].

Thus, the increase in the global temperature has serious consequences on humanity, including:

  1. The melting of ice in the North and South Pole

When the snow melts, the proportion of sea water rises, which negatively affects the areas adjacent to the seashore and the small islands, but the effect does not stop there. Rather, ice plays a major role in reflecting solar rays that cause heat. The greater the mass of snow on the ground, the greater the percentage of heat reflection into space. When it melts, it leaves plenty of room for seas, forests and deserts to trap heat on the planet, causing increased melting and temperature rising.

  1. Unstable weather conditions

One of the phenomena of climate change is that some countries are experiencing a gradual rise in temperature and its summer season extends for a long time, such as the countries located in central and southern Africa[2]. Conversely, the abnormal movement of cold air from the North Pole causes the lengthening of the winter season and a significant decrease in temperature during winter, especially in some areas that are located in the continents of America and Europe[3]. One of the phenomena of the instability of weather conditions is the change in the condition of rain. When the temperature rises, it leads to an increase in the rate of rain and its unexpectedness in the countries that lie on the storm line. These factors combined put various areas of human life at risk because increased rains cause floods, property destruction, and a lack of crops. On the other hand, countries that were not in the storm line will experience a lack of rain and thus experience the opposite effects.

After proving the seriousness of climate change that the world is witnessing in recent times and the negative effects resulting from it, the specialists agreed to summarize two ways to confront climate change, namely, adaptation and mitigation.

The debate took place between adaptation and mitigation after they agreed on the importance of the two methods, as neither one of them can be dispensed with at all. The problem of the debate lies in the limited resources and the best way to exploit those resources. A study published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has proven that adaptation to climate change in developing countries costs 70 billion US dollars annually and may cost 500 billion in the year 2050[4]. However, climate change mitigation is also very costly, as it includes doing everything possible to mitigate climate change will cost between 240 to 420 billion US dollars in 2030[5]. The resources available to countries are limited and the crisis that people are suffering from is increasing, so the important question that came up was about the priority at the present time.

Before going into the arguments in support of the two positions of adaptation or mitigation, we should compare them in terms of actions and purpose.

Climate change mitigation is all the necessary actions taken by humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly. Any change that occurs to human lifestyle, technology or products adopted by humans and reduce the rate of greenhouse gas emissions is part of the climate change mitigation. As for adaptation, it includes the actions taken by humans to adapt to climate change, and it does not aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the problem of increased rain and floods that occur in some countries due to climate change. Adaptation, in this case, would be the construction of movable houses on water and the development of weather forecasting methods. On the other hand, the frequent use of electric cars and the adoption of solar energy in residential area is an example of mitigation.

Adaptation Arguments:

  1. The need to adapt

All living creatures, especially humans, are endangered due to climate change. The rate of victims of natural disasters increases annually, crops are decreasing, properties are destroyed, diseases of all kinds are spreading, and animals are exposed to extinction. There is no other solution to confront all these crises except by finding immediate solutions. Climate change has also played a large role in the occurrence of these crises, and adaptation is, in fact, the best treatment.

When crops decrease annually, humanity will suffer from famine, poverty and social chaos. Therefore, is the solution to use electric cars or spend money on environmentally-saving products going to fix this? Of course not… The only way out of this problem is to use all resources to adapt to the changes and this is done through the following: “Developing weather forecasting mechanisms in agricultural areas, relying on genetic engineering to grow crops as quickly as possible before they are exposed to disasters, and germinating grain in shelves that are elevated from the ground or transportable during floods.

  1. Justice

It seems that the countries that emit greenhouse gases the most are major industrialized countries and developed countries. The 4 countries – according to statistics – that emit more greenhouse gases during a period of 150 years are the United States of America, China, Russia and Germany[6]. The most affected countries are the developing countries whose economy depends on agricultural activities and lack infrastructure suitable for weather conditions. It is fair that developed countries, especially those that have harmed the environment, should provide the most important and sufficient resources for the affected countries to adapt to climate change. When looking at the sources of greenhouse gas emissions as a percentage of the population, it has been proven that those who emit more greenhouse gases are residents of developed countries. Since human life is sacred regardless of geographical areas, it is the duty of the rich to help the poor out of tragedy, especially if the rich are the cause of the problems of poverty.

  1. The speed of the result

If we make a direct comparison between adaptation and mitigation, it will become clear to us that adaptation gives direct results to those affected, and as for mitigation, its results are far-reaching.

Greenhouse gases have been emitted and will remain on the Earth’s surface for many years, even if we reduce their emissions at the present time. This does not mean that the mitigation is unimportant, rather it is very important, but it takes time. However, the delay in making decisions to adapt increases human victims and other living organisms. Thus, when we focus on adaptation activities now, we provide for the basic needs of people and at the same time, we can do studies and research to find the most effective and least expensive ways to mitigate in the future. In short, focusing on adaptation at the present time ensures direct benefit and does not harm mitigation projects, and the result is in favor of both in the short and long term.

Mitigation Arguments

  1. The real solution

The phenomenon of climate change has causes and factors, which can only be truly eliminated by stopping the causes that lead to it. Adaptation to climate change means accepting environmental pollution and neglecting the reform process. Humans will not be able to escape from environmental suffering if climate change is not mitigated.

This is because the sea level rise caused by the melting of ice in the North and South Pole will continue, and the affected areas will expand in the coming years. Adapting to this problem by building walls separating the sea and residential areas will only benefit us in the short term because the sea surface is still rising. These accumulated problems will eventually reach a climax where humans will no longer be able to adapt. The longer the mitigation projects are delayed, the less reform possibility we have. Therefore, the focus should be on mitigation, even if this requires reducing the budget for adaptation to climate change.

On the other hand, there are some problems that we cannot adapt to, especially the health damage caused by climate change factors. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), in addition to increasing the temperature on the surface of the Earth, is also considered one of the ozone-depleting gases. When the ozone layers are depleted, the factors of human skin cancer increase. Here we unify our word and repeat that a person may not adapt at the expense of his health and safety. In fact, currently, about 150,000 people die annually from causes related to climate change. [7]

  1. The future of the world

When comparing adaptation and long-term mitigation, it becomes clear to us that mitigation is better in terms of effectiveness and budget. As for the effectiveness, it was discussed when proving that the real solution to climate change is mitigation and no other. As for the cost, mitigation is expensive, like adaptation, a point of similarity. However, the real difference will be noticed years later. Mitigation at the present time increases the Earth’s cleanliness and reduces environmental pollution, and it will become evident after a period of time, and the cost of mitigation will decrease, and then the need for adaptation will decrease.

On the other hand, focusing on adaptation at the present time and neglecting mitigation makes matters worse because after a few years, the cost of adaptation will increase and the ability to mitigate will decrease. The difference is not small as adaptation projects will cost 2-4 times after 10 years. Adaptation projects in developing countries currently require $70 billion annually, and the international community will not be able to provide this amount continuously, given that the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) under the auspices of the United Nations has spent $355 million on environmental protection projects and this benefits 7 million people Only while the rest of the millions are still affected.[8] 

In terms of justice between generations, it is our responsibility to prepare a suitable place for the lives of future generations, and this is their right. Only by climate change mitigation can we guarantee the future of people on different continents.

  1. The possibility of application

Climate change mitigation is not an impossible initiative, but it requires concerted efforts and commitment to reap its fruits later. Since the energy field is the strongest cause of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, it is possible for the world to turn to environmentally friendly sources to generate electricity. This is because the resources are present in many countries, especially developed countries that have the resources and technology and can turn towards the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity. The countries that get the sun’s heat throughout the year has to rely on solar energy as well as wind energy, biomass, hydroelectricity, and others… All of them are usable and do not pollute the environment.

In terms of transportation, a simple modification can change a person’s life, benefit him and help him in mitigating climate change such as replacing a car with one bus, equivalent to 40 cars, and thousands of cars with one train. This will reduce vehicles by a large percentage, expand the spaces free of private cars, and improve the public transport service. History has shown us that the creation of electric or compact cars, although expensive at the beginning, became available to many people after a few years. All these facts prove that we are capable of mitigating climate change and we should not be afraid of facing the negative effects. It has been proven that countries and the international community have the ability to bear the difficulties resulting from the process of mitigation from an economic point of view.

The evidence of the success of the international community to mitigate climate change is its collective action and the reduction of ozone-depleting gases. After 35 years of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the impact has become clear. Currently, most countries are phasing out electrical devices that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used cooling, such as refrigerators and air conditioners, which are among the ozone-depleting gases that cause an increase in cases of skin cancer and cataracts. They also damage plants, crops and environmental systems. In 2019, the use of devices containing these two substances was banned in 197 countries and for this reason, the new technology adopted by companies that produce refrigerators and air conditioners are all free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).[9]

By: Salman Ali – Debate instructor at QatarDebate


References

[1] https://world101.cfr.org/global-era-issues/climate-change/who-releases-most-greenhouse-gases

[2] https://www.livescience.com/37057-global-warming-effects.html

[3] https://www.dw.com/en/cold-winter-global-warming-polar-vortex/a-56534450

[4] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/step-climate-change-adaptation-or-face-serious-human-and-economic

[5] https://ourworldindata.org/how-much-will-it-cost-to-mitigate-climate-change

[6] https://world101.cfr.org/global-era-issues/climate-change/who-releases-most-greenhouse-gases

[7] https://www.who.int/heli/risks/climate/climatechange/en/

[8] https://www.thegef.org/topics/special-climate-change-fund-sccf

[9] https://www.rapidtransition.org/stories/back-from-the-brink-how-the-world-rapidly-sealed-a-deal-to-save-the-ozone-layer/

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