A few days ago, I discussed the White House’s comprehensive report on potential climate change impacts on the United States. After the release of the report, the White House solicited questions via Twitter. One of the questions we received which seemed particularly worth addressing was: "Is attention turning to adaptation rather than mitigation?"
Thanks for this question. The bottom line is that we need both. The more we are able to limit the magnitude of climate change through mitigation measures (such as energy efficiency initiatives, or switching to energy sources that do not use fossil fuel, or that use less of it), the more likely is that adapting to the impacts of climate change will be more feasible and less costly. However, because we are already seeing some of the impacts of climate change, as the report "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" outlines, we know that some adaptation is already necessary and more will be needed. So the report highlights both the need for rapid and aggressive action if we want to avoid some of the more severe impacts, and it also illustrates some adaptation examples that we know are already being applied. What the report also says, in its recommendations section, is that we need a more focused effort to enhance understanding of how society can adapt to climate change. We currently have relatively limited knowledge regarding the best approaches to adaptation in the United States, and so in addition to the focus on reducing the climate change through mitigations measures, a clear need for more focus on adaptation is also emerging. Thanks again for the question.
Dr. Anne Waple is with the US Global Change Research Program