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Combining climate-change adaptation and mitigation: a win-win option

A holistic approach to combating climate change.
Expert: rural development projects focusing on adaptation could easily incorporate mitigation strategies.

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Although rural landscapes can be managed to optimize both climate-change mitigation and adaptation, many climate-oriented development projects fail to take advantage of the combined benefits, according to Bruno Locatelli, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD).

With careful planning, landscapes can be managed to emphasize the synergies between adaptation and mitigation while balancing the trade-offs, he said at a conference at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, CATIE) in Costa Rica in October.

“There’s huge potential for integrating adaptation and mitigation in the 235 projects we reviewed worldwide, but project documents often don’t mention reasons for doing so,” Locatelli told participants at the seventh Henry A. Wallace Inter-American Scientific Conference, marking the 40th anniversary of CATIE’s founding.

Mitigation, which involves reducing or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation, which refers to adjustments to reduce the impact of climate change, are often pigeonholed separately, he said.

But rural landscapes contribute to both adaptation and mitigation, absorbing and storing carbon while buffering the effects of climate change and enabling farmers to diversify their livelihoods.

Rural development projects focusing on adaptation could easily incorporate mitigation strategies, Locatelli said.

For example, a project designed to help farmers increase resilience to climate change and diversify their income might include watershed restoration to protect against flooding. Because any trees planted for such a restoration would have the added benefit of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon, a mitigation strategy could be added to the adaptation plan.

But adaptation and mitigation do not always coincide perfectly, Locatelli said.

If those trees are in a plantation, there could be unintended consequences. For example, decreased water availability, increased runoff during storms or the use of agricultural chemicals could pose hazards to people downstream.

Combining adaptation and mitigation addresses sustainability in a more holistic wa

Bruno Locatelli

And though conserving a forest may enable a local community to receive compensation for reduced deforestation under the U.N.-backed scheme REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), it might also include restrictions that would limit people’s access to forest products that are important for their livelihoods and for coping with climate variations, Locatelli said.

“You need to look at both the synergies and the trade-offs,” he said.

Complicating matters is the lack of real-life data to guide project design and policy decisions.When Locatelli reviewed 139 papers about climate-change adaptation and mitigation, he found 64 that mentioned reasons for integrating mitigation and adaptation in projects, but only 11 papers actually studied existing climate-change projects.

That means many projects probably are being designed and launched without the support of adequate scientific evidence, he said. Some of those knowledge gaps could be filled if project leaders had common systems for gathering on-the-ground data, which could then be shared, he said.

Several steps are already being taken in that direction. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards “identify projects that simultaneously address climate change, support local communities and conserve biodiversity,” according to the organization.

Local communities in particular stand to benefit from a combination of adaptation and mitigation measures, Locatelli said.

“If you add adaptation measures to REDD+ projects, you can address equity, increase stakeholder participation and make the project more acceptable to local communities. Combining adaptation and mitigation addresses sustainability in a more holistic way.”

Mitigation and adaptation measures are on the agenda at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw. Potential benefits of combining adaptation and mitigation strategies will also be discussed at the Global Landscapes Forum from November 16 to 17, which will coincide with the U.N. climate summit.

For more information on the topics discussed in this article, please contact b.locatelli@cgiar.org

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and is supported by AusAid CIFOR-REDD+ research partnership.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Landscapes Rights