Mitigate and Adapt

We need to mitigate climate change and adapt to it

Human activities have caused changes in our climate. We must stop engaging in those activities and adjust to the developments that can no longer be avoided. But what if our adaptation efforts continue to fuel climate change? 


A systems perspective is needed to understand what adaptation measures we can “afford” without further harming the climate.

Adaptation and Mitigation influence each other

We know that there is no more time to lose facing the climate crisis. Therefore, mitigation of climate change includes all efforts to prevent or reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, either by reducing the sources of these gases (e.g. through renewable energy) or by improving the storage of these gases (e.g. by increasing the size of forests). However, the effects of climate change are already being felt today and we will have to adapt more and more, even if we adhere to strict climate protection measures. Examples of adaptation measures include large-scale infrastructure changes such as sea-level rise protection walls (reducing vulnerability) and relocations or migration to avoid climate change impacts (reducing exposure).

In short, mitigation addresses the causes of climate change and adaptation addresses the effects of climate change. But mitigation and adaptation measures do not take place in isolation. Rather, they are interconnected in various ways which may lead to new risks that we need to manage without jeopardising our climate change mitigation goals. A simple example is that extreme heatwaves may trigger a massive increase in residential air conditioning, which not only exacerbates the effects of the urban heat island, but also leads to increased energy consumption and additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Maladaptation – Missing the long-term targets

The adaptation response described above is an example of maladaptation: responses based on incomplete knowledge of the system and motivated only by short-term goals often lead to unintended side-effects in other sectors or at the higher level, rendering other adaptation and mitigation measures ineffective. The outcome in such cases is undesirable, for the individual (at least in the longer term), for society, or for both.

Maladaptation is not limited to individual behaviour. Many policies (and related innovations) that have targeted aspects of both mitigation and adaptation have failed to have a long-term impact due to rebound or spillover effects. An example of a typical rebound effect is the increase in energy efficiency (and reduction in costs) through advanced technologies that lead to an increase in demand rather than a decrease in energy consumption.

Taking a systems perspective – realise synergies between measures

In this complex system with its cross-dependencies between sectors, how can we combine the efforts of mitigation and adaptation in such a way that they really contribute to our goals in the long term? KNOWING takes a systemic view, modelling all relevant causal links and resulting feedback to analyse and optimise mitigation and adaptation pathways. This is considered as the main methodological novelty in KNOWING.

No single measure will be the key to success. From a systems perspective, the (reinforcing) interaction between individual measures will be critical to exploit the full synergy potential. This can also help to transform negative spirals (vitious circles) into positive spirals (virtuous circles), facilitating positive social tipping points.

The climate system and the human impact

The climate system provides the conditions for all living beings to thrive. Our actions during the last centuries though are increasingly disrupting the delicate balance of the climate system, threatening the survival of both humans and countless species.

The causes and effects are well understood, and solutions are ready. It just needs to be done.

All for one

In a world of constant change, we feel uncertain and overwhelmed. But: We don’t have to be driven by these changes! By joining forces and shaping our future, we can eliminate these uncertainties and determine the direction of change.

Together, let’s create a better world for ourselves and the generations to come.