Interview: Linking climate adaptation and mitigation

In a new study in the journal Climatic Change, IIASA Guest Research Scholar Mia Landauer explores the interrelationships between policies dealing with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Why did you decide to do this study?
Adaptation and mitigation have been traditionally handled as two separate policies to combat climate change. We wanted to explore whether adaptation and mitigation can or should be considered together, because the implementation of the two policies takes place at different scales and the goals of the two climate policies are often considered distant from each other. We approached this question with a systematic literature review, because although such reviews are common in other research fields such as health sciences, there are only a few examples in social and environmental sciences. Ours was the first systematic analysis on how the interrelationships have been studied across different research fields and how these studies have conceptualized the issue.

The United Nation Headquarters complex in New York turns out their lights in observance of “Earth Hour,” in 2015. Credit: John Gillespie via Flickr

Cities are at the forefront of climate policy making and climate impacts. The United Nation Headquarters complex in New York turns out their lights in observance of “Earth Hour,” in 2015. Credit: John Gillespie via Flickr

What were the major findings of your study? What was new or unique?
We found that cities in particular should consider adaptation and mitigation together, because cities are in the forefront of climate policy making and urban actors have to negotiate trade-offs between the two climate policies across multiple scales. We found the highest number of publications on interrelationships between adaptation and mitigation from the field of urban studies.

Our systematic review provides knowledge on how synergies can be identified and conflicts avoided across different urban sectors and scales which is valuable for urban decision makers and planners when they have to consider climate policy making and planning practices.

Why are cities important when researching climate change adaptation and mitigation?
Our systematic review reveals that there is an increasing interest to study the interrelationships especially in cities, which face challenges of global change both in developing and developed countries. Especially under limited resources, integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies can provide a possibility to increase efficiency of cities’ responses to climate change.

A green wall in Paris shows just one example of building innovations to help mitigate climate change. Credit: Mia Landauer 2013

A green wall in Paris shows just one example of building innovations to help mitigate climate change. Credit: Mia Landauer 2013

What are the major conflicts and synergies you identified?
At the organizational scale, the trade-offs and conflicts we found between adaptation and mitigation showed up especially in urban policy and administrative processes, and allocation of resources. In practice, conflicts appear especially when there are competing land uses such as between public and private land. We also identified a number of synergies, which are indications of positive interrelationships. In practice, synergies can be found particularly in the building, infrastructure and energy sectors, with examples ranging from passive building design to urban greening and alternative energy options. In order to enhance synergies, changes in regulations and legislation, policy and planning innovations, raising awareness and cooperation between different actors and sectors should be considered.

How can this information be applied for policy making?
Integration of adaptation and mitigation can reduce vulnerability to climate change and help to implement climate policy and planning in a resource-efficient manner. Our analysis identified many opportunities that can be gained from integration of adaptation and mitigation. Especially in cities we find that it can be beneficial for decision makers and planners to consider adaptation and mitigation policies together, in order to avoid conflicts in planning practices and negotiate difficult trade-offs.

Landauer M, Juhola S, Soederholm M (2015) Inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation: a systematic literature review. Climatic Change, Article in press (Published online 8 April 2015)

Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

A long road ahead on risk-sensitive development in Madagascar

By Junko Mochizuki, IIASA Risk, Policy and Vulnerability Program

As economic losses due to natural disasters rise globally, there is an increasing consensus that the impacts of public and private investments on disaster risk must properly be monitored and evaluated. Such “risk-sensitive investment” is increasingly recognized as good practice in both public and private sector decision making. As we look beyond the Post-2015 development agenda, the incorporation of risk is increasingly becoming a crucial element to sustainable and resilience development throughout the world.

Bamboo shelters and protected water sources can mitigate risks during and following a disaster ©EU/ECHO Malini Morzaria

Risk reduction  measures such as bamboo shelters and protected water sources can mitigate risks during and following a disaster ©EU/ECHO Malini Morzaria via Flickr

While risk sensitive investment will likely receive great fanfare at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Sendai next month, the prospects for achieving such investments are still distant for many developing countries. Despite much recent progress to collect and analyze natural disaster damage, loss, and risk information globally, data quality remains largely poor for these countries. Many developing countries also lack the expertise to interpret and use such data effectively.  Even when capacity exists at the technical staff level, political will and financial capacity may not be sufficient to use risk information tangibly and invest in risk reduction activities.

My participation at a recent workshop in Madagascar, the Training Program on Disaster Risk Assessment and Optimization of Public Investments in Reducing Economic Losses in January confirmed my sense of this inadequate on-the-ground reality. With a per capita GDP of approximately $460 per year, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries and, located in the western corner of the Indian Ocean, one of the most highly exposed to natural disaster risk. In 2008 for example, three consecutive cyclones caused more than $330 million in damage and losses. The annual average loss (AAL) from cyclone wind alone is estimated to be $74 million or nearly 1% of the country’s GDP.  After two days of capacity-building training on risk assessment and investment decision-making tools such as IIASA’s Catastrophe Simulation (CATSIM) model and Probabilistic Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), discussions by technical staff centered around how to fill the large gap between the reality of where they stand now and where they should be in the future.

At the workshop, the participants asked questions such as “How can we strengthen contingency funding and the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction at the same time?” and “What can a cash stripped government do when donors themselves do not seem to allocate funding based on the tangible needs of a country’s natural disaster risks?”


Workshop in Madagascar. Credit: Junko Mochizuki

Given the unique constraints facing developing countries, solutions must be tailored to their specific needs, however much of the know-how and technological options that have worked in the developed world cannot be easily replicated in a country like Madagascar.  There are no easy answers, but the participants’ earnest opinions certainly gave me a positive impression that they are serious about taking disaster risk into account in their development.

As we deliberate the post-2015 goals on climate change, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development, it is vital that the international community consider these important questions: Given the unique constraints of developing countries, what can our state-of-the-art science produce as usable and useful information for the realities of their decision making? There are more dialogues to be had and research to be conducted incorporating their viewpoints. This workshop provided an important opportunity to exchange ideas and a glimpse into the real challenges of risk sensitive investment in the developing world.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

How can research help achieve resilience?

By Elisabeth Suwandschieff, Research Scholar, IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program


Vienna, Austria

We live in a world that is fluid and diverse. Yet policymakers have to find solutions to problems that are definitive and effective, able to adapt to uncertain, changing, and challenging environments. How can research help policymakers to achieve such resilience?

At last week’s 4th Viennese Talks on Resilience and Networks, I listened to a number of talks on this topic from prominent figures in politics, military, research, and the private sector who came together to discuss future potential pathways for Austria. Speakers from politics emphasized the importance of social solutions such as greater investment in education. Meanwhile researchers from IIASA and other institutions brought perspective from systems analysis methods and explained how research on dynamic systems can inform policy making.

System dynamics view
From the research perspective, IIASA’s Brian Fath and others brought a systems analytical view of complex systems and their dynamics. They explained that complex systems such as organizations, businesses, and cities go through different stages in their “ecocycle.” Understanding the cycle and process is key to influencing its development.

FAS.research Director Harald Katzmair argued that life, as a complex system, can be seen as a process of growth, stagnation, destructurization and reorganization. In a recent research project, Katzmair found that the main factor in achieving resilience was the ability of the system to remain flexible through improvisation, collaboration, behavioral change and openness. If we apply this to our understanding of the world it becomes necessary to rethink our approach to leadership in every aspect.

“Our world is not a closed system; it does not consist of one choice, one idea, one currency,” said Katzmair.

Fath said that resilience is achieved by successfully managing each stage of the life cycle, explaining that even collapse can be seen as a key feature of system dynamics, because it results in developmental opportunities. Through disturbance and adaptive change in the landscape, new landscapes can be shaped.

Applying research to resilience
Many of the research talks were mathematical and complex. How can such research help in achieving resilience on a practical level? The issue for policymakers is that they have to provide definitive solutions when actually we live in a world that is fluid and diverse – therefore we need a diversified portfolio of problem solving. That is, solutions must be broad without losing focus. They must be effective, but remain flexible and open.

Research can bring different experiences together, provide a platform and a common language that can be shared. Systems thinking is a powerful way to condense the different ways of thinking and produce a portfolio of options rather than provide rigid solutions.

The adaptive cycle (Burkhard et al. 2011)

The adaptive cycle (Burkhard et al. 2011)

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Climate change missing from government risk agendas

By Leena Ilmola-Sheppard, IIASA Advanced Systems Analysis Program

When government officials speak about risks, they are usually referring to natural disasters. And it seems in these discussions that the increasing frequency of flooding, droughts, snow storms, and hurricanes have no link to climate change nor mitigation of it.

Last week,  I had an opportunity to sit and listen to discussions at the fourth annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) High Level Risk Forum.  The objective of the forum is to initiate joint development of the national level risk management tools and procedures.  National risk directors form their Prime Minister’s Offices and OECD ambassadors spent three rainy days from December 10-12 discussing risk.

The most of the time, the discussion centered around disaster risks.  Whatever the theme of the  session, the discussion ended up on disaster management, disaster costs, or best practices. This is a theme that was recognized to be of importance in every government.  The other risks that were presented were terrorism, the Ebola epidemic, and illicit trade. The missing themes–that I had expected to be on the agenda–were technology related, financial risks and political risks.

Photo Credit: Ched Cheddles via Flickr

Governments usually take risk to mean natural disasters – but missing from most discussions are climate change, technology, financial, and political risks. Here: storm clouds over England in September 2014. Photo Credit: Ched Cheddles via Flickr

Margaret Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, gave the best presentation. Her key message war that climate change related issues were not integrated well enough with risk management.  Kate White from the US Army Corps of Engineers supported Wahlstrom by stating that the climate change will radically change disaster management goals, procedures, and volume of investment.  There should be a strong motivation for that, she said, as disasters are coming more expensive.  According to her data, the total cost of hurricane Sandy was 65 billion US$.

The Australian government calculations presented in the meeting are very revealing as well; from Australian government is spending around 400 million AU$ for disaster prevention and response, and 2.6 billion AU$  for recovery.  As the Australian example shows, governments have a long way to go from words to action. Governments have not yet realized the role of mitigation, at least not in the budgeting level.

The main theme of this year’s forum was “risk and resilience.”  So the word was used a lot in all of the presentations.  However, the concept of resilience seems to have many meanings and concrete substance behind the word is ambiguous.  Margaret Wahlstrom pointed out that there is a need for a cross-discipline understanding of resilience, as well as for a generic resilience measurement system.   Concrete quantitative indicators would help policymakers to assess the development actions needed, improvement achieved, and provide justification for development actions.

The most vivid discussion concerned the relationship of the national risk management and public involvement. Countries such as the United Kingdom promote full transparency and active risk communications, while some of the governments such as Singapore focus on communicating the vision and improvement ideas instead of risks.  My interpretation of the discussion is that many of the represented government experts perceive risks to be too complicated to communicate to a general audience.  The Nordic countries even go beyond communication, to encourage and support self-organized actions. For example the government supported people when they started to offer shelter and places to sleep for those that got stuck on the road during the October storms of this year, the worst to hit the region in decades.

Read the forum’s summary document draft (PDF)

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Lima: A stronger role for climate risk management

By Reinhard Mechler & Thomas Schinko (IIASA) with Swenja Surminski (LSE)

(updated 17 December 2014)

As participants in the 20th Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP 20) in Lima strived to prepare the grounds for a comprehensive climate agreement expected for COP 21 in Paris, negotiators faced key questions that revolve around responsibility and burden sharing.

These questions are not new and have played a key role in the policy and academic discourse on climate change since the beginning of the UNFCCC process.

On the mitigation of emissions, the debate has circled around burden sharing: How should emission reductions be distributed among countries and what are the distributional consequences? On climate impacts and adaptation, the debate has centered on the question of who should pay for adaption and impacts in the global South, given that the global North has been responsible for the bulk of historic anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and that the global South will be facing the most severe risks from climate change.

The 20th Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP 20) opened in Lima on December 1st with big fanfare. It is considered the key milestone event on the road to a comprehensive global deal on climate change that many hope will be struck in Paris in a year’s time.   Photo Credit: UN Climate Change

The 20th Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP 20) opened in Lima on December 1st with big fanfare. It is considered the key milestone event on the road to a comprehensive global deal on climate change that many hope will be struck in Paris in a year’s time. Photo Credit: UN Climate Change

As a partial response, the Green Climate Fund (CGF) was established at COP 16 in Copenhagen to assist developing economies in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation. The GCF is currently being capitalized by industrialized and emerging economies with the aim of raising 100 billion USD by 2020. At the UN climate talks in Lima the CGF has achieved – thanks to last-minute pledges by several countries – its short term target of mobilizing at least 10 billion USD for the next four years.

Negotiations covering impacts and adaptation have further proceeded, among others, under the umbrella of the Warsaw Loss and Damage Mechanism (WIM), accepted at COP 19 in Warsaw after strong debate as to its meaning and nature- some suggest this mechanism should be part of adaptation, others want it to focus on residual risks that remain after adaptation efforts have been taken.

As a contribution to the WIM discourse, we recently suggested an approach organized around climate risk management, involving the principle of risk layering. We propose that the WIM can build on this principle to distinguish between risk layers to be managed and residual risk layers ‘beyond adaptation,’ thus involving both equity and efficiency aspects: (i) Equity in terms of financially supporting countries particularly vulnerable to climate change in their efforts to manage risks and deal with the burdens ‘beyond adaptation’; (ii) Efficiency in terms of helping to identify best practice for managing risk through well-designed risk prevention, preparedness and financing measures that address high and low frequency climate-related events.

We argue that the risk layering perspective may contribute to taking the WIM discourse over the apparent red negotiation lines if financial support is coupled with well-targeted risk management efforts  – such as coordinated nationally through national platforms for disaster risk reduction,

Notions of risk management have been fundamental for the WIM. In Lima the parties discuss whether to accept a two-year work plan, which was put together with input from policy, science and practice. The work plan would give a strong role to risk management and, among others, would seek advice on “enhanced understanding of how comprehensive risk management can contribute to transformational approaches.”

Inauguration ceremony of COP20 in Lima. Credit: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Peru

Inauguration ceremony of COP20 in Lima. Credit: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Peru

Transformational risk management approaches have been promoted by the disaster risk management community over the last few years in seeking a better balance between pre-event risk management and post-event relief and reconstruction (currently 15% of overseas development assistance goes into pre-event efforts vs. 85% into post-event). As a case in point, regional risk pools (mostly covering climate-related risks) have been springing up in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Africa. These efforts are first and foremost focussed on mutually financing risk, but can also be seen as a first step to a comprehensive approach for reducing and financing risks.

For example, the African Risk Capacity (ARC) pool provides quick finance to provide relief after drought events, and has aimed at linking these efforts to improvements in response planning and early warning. Innovatively, the ARC, initially capitalized by donor support and country contributions, currently explores to set up an Extreme Climate Facility for raising funding for any losses that can be related to climate change and may endanger the solvency of the ARC.

The idea is to monitor variability in a composite index of weather indicators over time and understand whether this variability can be attributed to climate change, which would then lead to a pay-out to the fund from this facility. While promising, the link to attribution is a key scientific challenge, and a number of principled and implementation-related questions for this particular facility as well as for the WIM in general remain open. These open questions will need further attention by science, policy, practice and civil society in the coming months in order to help achieve progress on the Loss and Damage Mechanism.


Reinhard Mechler, Laurens M. Bouwer, Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer, Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler, Jeroen C. J. H. Aerts, Swenja Surminski & Keith Williges. 2014. Managing unnatural disaster risk from climate extremes. Nature Climate Change. March 26, 2014.

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.