The research on the impacts of climate change on the natural system and human system is growing exponentially. There is a scientific consensus on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and we must act to avoid the associated damages. So, what are the solutions to the climate change problem? Broadly, there are two solutions to climate change. One, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere to avoid climate change. Second, reduce the vulnerability associated with the harmful effects of climate change. The two solutions to respond to climate change are known as mitigation and adaptation.
Climate Change Mitigation
A reduction in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be achieved by reducing the carbon dioxide emissions and by increasing the absorption of carbon dioxide. Most of the carbon dioxide is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels to meet the energy demand for industries, transport, and homes. We can reduce fossil fuel combustion by changing the fuel type and by reducing the energy demand. Instead of using fossil fuel we can shift to low carbon fuels such as renewable energy and nuclear energy. We can reduce energy demand by energy conservation and energy efficiency. The oceans and forests absorb almost half of the carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere. One of the reasons for increasing carbon dioxide concentration is a decrease in the absorption of carbon dioxide due to deforestation. By restoring and enhancing the forest cover, we can improve the rate of carbon dioxide absorption and reduce its concentration in the atmosphere.
Mitigation option 1: Reducing energy demand – efficiency and conservation
Reduction in energy use is the first best option to mitigate climate change. It is well known that the demand for energy is a derived demand for services from energy using devices. Consumers derive utility from consumption of services. Energy services can be delivered at lower energy input by improving the technology of the devices. Lower energy consumption and the same energy service can be achieved using improved technology. Reducing the demand for services can also reduce energy demand and result in conservation of energy. Energy efficiency and conservation are two primary means of reducing energy demand.
Mitigation option 2: Low carbon energy sources
Both renewable energy sources and nuclear energy offer low carbon alternatives to meet the energy demand. Large hydro and nuclear energy are the two most significant low carbon energy sources for electricity generation in the world. There has been a strong tendency to promote renewable energy sources for electricity generation with a particular emphasis on wind and solar. Most countries have RE-targets and policies to meet the targets. As a result, the cost of electricity generation from wind and solar photovoltaic (SPV) has been declining and is competitive with other energy sources in some cases. The electricity generated from wind and solar depends on the availability of wind and sunlight and may not coincide with the demand curve. Intermittent electricity supply cause concerns for grid integration and grid stability. The transition to low carbon sources to meet the energy demand is both a medium and long-term mitigation option. Scientists are finding ways to overcome the challenges towards such transformation.
Mitigation option 3: Forest management
Forests are natural carbon sinks in the carbon cycle that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The rate of absorption depends on a variety of factors such as the thickness of the forest cover and the age of the trees. Scientists measure the terrestrial intake in million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. In the last decade (2007-2016) around 30% of the carbon dioxide emission was absorbed by the terrestrial sink. Deforestation and degradation of forests increase carbon dioxide emissions. Managing the forest cover is an important mitigation option with multiple benefits. The uptake of forestry activities in mitigation policies is limited by uncertainties in quantifying the mitigation potential and permanency of forest carbon stocks.
Climate Change Adaptation
Adaptation to climate change involves reducing the vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change. Natural systems and human systems will adapt to the changes in climate. While some adaptation measures are already being implemented, others will be taken up in the medium and long-term. The adaptation measures can be at local, regional or national level. It can be of different forms such as technical, behavioral, financial or institutional or a combination of these. The timing of stimulus and driver of action also classifies the climate change adaptation measures. Most of the adaptation activities focus on capacity building (human, social resource and capital), governance and institutional management planning and changes in or expansion of practice or behavior.
Adaptation in Key Sectors
Strategies such as rainwater harvesting and increasing the water storage capacity can achieve adaptation in the water sector. Improvement in irrigation efficiency is also an important strategy to manage water stress. In the agriculture sector, adjustments to planting dates and increasing crop varieties resilient to weather patterns can be helpful. Several other adaptation practices have been identified for the agriculture sector. The infrastructure sector will be affected due to sea level rise and extreme events. Adaptation strategies include relocation, protection of existing natural barriers and better warning systems. There is increasing evidence on the harmful impacts of climate change on human health. Health plans for climate-sensitive diseases, safe water, and improved sanitation are some of the options to reduce the effects on human health. Similarly, strategies for the transport and energy sector include improved planning and diversification of energy sources.
Response to climate change includes mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is the reduction of causes of climate change and adaptation is the reduction of harmful effects of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are required to meet the challenges posed by climate change. Both strategies also promote sustainable development.
- Managing Forests for Climate Change Mitigation – ScienceMag
- Global Environmental Change – Journal Paper
- Climate Change Adaptation: Options and Mechanisms under the UNFCCC