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0.5 How to address the inter-relationships and co-benefits between adaptation and mitigation?

Mitigation of climate change and adaptation to the climate change risks are complementary necessary routes of action that address two different aspects of climate change. The one cannot be fully successful without the other and there are numerous co-benefits between adaptation and mitigation measures. Due to historic greenhouse gas emissions, which are irreversible, the world is already experiencing changes in climate and will continue to face further risks even if robust mitigation measures are taken.  On the other hand, adaptation without mitigation efforts cannot succeed. Therefore, mitigation and adaptation need to work in an integrated manner to safeguard urban lives and livelihoods.  Furthermore, various adaptation measures can and should contribute to the achievement of mitigation goals and vice versa, while caution should be taken to avoid misalignment of the results achieved.


In order for mitigation and adaptation to successfully achieve their respective aims of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing the already felt and projected impacts of current and future climate change, the two fields of action need to be managed in an integrated manner so as to maximise their potential co-benefits. It is furthermore a resource-efficient approach to climate change policy- and decision-making.

The decisions on mitigation and adaptation due to their inherent nature are usually taken on differing governance levels and by different groups of decision-makers; the major difference between the two policy areas being that mitigation efforts contribute towards a reduction of climate change impacts globally, whereas the scope adaptation action is primarily local.  To align the two, it is highly recommended that stakeholders representing mitigation planning and implementation are involved in the adaptation planning and implementation cycle for continuous feedback and cross-checking. See Q1.6 for more details on stakeholder involvement.

The main types of interaction points between mitigation and adaptation are:

  • adaptation measures causing impacts on mitigation aims

    e.g. adaptation measures that require increased energy use either for initial building and set-up or continuous operation. Choosing to use energy from renewable sources will allow implementation of these adaptation measures without negative trade-offs with mitigation.
    Another example are adaptation measures that aim to assign urban spaces to ‘green areas thus leading to reduced urban density, which is less desirable from the mitigation perspective.
  • mitigation measures causing impacts on adaptation aims

     afforestation aimed at increasing carbon sequestration as a mitigation measure in an arid region might cause higher demand for limited and diminishing water resources therefore limiting adaptation potential. Competition for land resources might also arise between mitigation and adaptation measures. Integrated planning is therefore highly recommended for the identification of most beneficial mix of mitigation and adaptation measures in these cases.

  • other processes that impact both mitigation and adaptation

    e.g. processes in various policy and decision-making fields have the potential to have indirect impacts on both mitigation and adaptation. Some examples of such policies are land-use and urban spatial planning, water resources planning, disaster risk management, strategic development planning, budgetary considerations, infrastructure projects, health and social policies, etc. Simultaneous mainstreaming of both mitigation and adaptation considerations in all relevant decision-making fields are essential to ensure coherency between the various strategic aims.

  • decisions that improve co-benefits or cause trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation

    e.g. the decisions that
    are directly relevant to both adaptation and mitigation, however do not yet explicitly take into account the co-benefits and trade-offs. For example, water allocation between hydropower and consumptive use, budget allocations for both mitigation and adaptation, monitoring systems that cover both adaptation and mitigation, decisions on media coverage that favour either mitigation or adaptation in an unbalanced manner, even specific climate policies that consider both mitigation and adaptation, however are lacking considerations and analyses of co-benefits and trade-offs. In all cases where decisions are made with direct impacts on both adaptation and mitigation, it is highly recommended that mechanisms are set up to explicitly address the interactions.

    (For some additional examples on how to combine adaptation and mitigation actions, see this article by Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy)


The main urban sectors where most synergies between adaptation and mitigation are expected are spatial planning, energy and construction/buildings. See Q2.5 Which sectors in my city/town are most likely to be impacted by climate change and how? for more details on urban sectors in adaptation.

To appropriately address these interconnection aspects, considerations of mitigation need to be included in most adaptation cycle steps, but most prominently within STEP3 Identifying adaptation options and STEP4 Assessing and selecting adaptation options  wherein the adaptation measures are being collected, assessed and selected for implementation. Also, an adaptation strategy developed in STEP5 Implementation  should ideally explicitly address the interactions and synergies with mitigation efforts.


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