Climate Change 101

Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation


Society's response to climate change includes two fundamental strategies–adaptation, where Canadians respond to a changing environment, and mitigation, where efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (

Adaptation is a necessary complement to mitigation in addressing climate change. Adaptation involves making adjustments in our decisions, activities and thinking because of observed or expected changes in climate, with the goals of moderating harm and taking advantage of new opportunities.

Adaptation or Mitigation?
While neither adaptation nor mitigation actions alone can prevent significant climate change impacts, taken together they can significantly reduce risks. There is no optimal mix between adaptation and mitigation, and climate change policy is not about making choices between the two. Mitigation is necessary to reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change, while adaptation is essential to reduce the damages from climate change that cannot be avoided. (

Examples of Mitigation

Forests can be significant greenhouse gas (GHG) sources and significant carbon sinks as a result of natural processes (such as fire, insect infestations and tree growth) and of human activities (such as harvesting, afforestation and deforestation).

The idea behind using forests to help mitigate climate change globally therefore involves finding ways to manage them to reduce their potential to be sources and increase their potential to be sinks. For example:

• Limiting deforestation and reducing GHG emissions associated with forestry operations are two ways to decrease forests as sources. Strategies include minimizing disturbance during harvesting activities, reducing the width of forest roads and helping trees get re-established faster after harvest.
• Creating more forests through afforestation and enhancing growth in existing forests are two ways to increase forests as carbon sinks. Afforestation means establishing new forests on abandoned agricultural land or other non-forested areas.

The economics of afforestation to create carbon sinks has been extensively researched. One problem identified is that many of the costs of afforestation must be paid for upfront, but the carbon sink benefits develop slowly over time. This means that afforestation is not always economically attractive to the private sector.

Furthermore, it is still unclear what the trade-offs are when a land-use change such as afforestation occurs on a large scale. For example, the carbon benefits to be gained from afforestation must be weighed against the implications for the agricultural sector. Less land available for food-growing is one cost. That in turn creates another cost: namely, the need for more energy-intensive agricultural practices to meet production demand on a smaller land area—a likely outcome of which is an increase in carbon emissions.

Reducing deforestation is complicated to tackle. There are many different causes of deforestation across many sectors such as agriculture, municipal development, mining and energy. This means that policies to address deforestation must often be developed on a sector-by-sector basis. What is clear, however, is that where deforestation is reduced, the immediate outcome is reduced GHG emissions. (

This is a black and white map of Canada. On each province or territory on the map, there is the name of the province or territory and a list of key policies and measures.


Examples of Adaptation

• Heat- and drought-tolerant seeds may help plants reproduce and survive despite extreme weather.

• Researchers are exploring ways to breed livestock like chickens, turkeys, and pigs to better withstand heat.
• “Fire-adapted communities” could dot at-risk landscapes. Ringed by fuel breaks where flammable vegetation has been removed, these protected enclaves – populated by citizens educated in fire safety – help safeguard home and health. Wildfires are predicted to rise more than 60 percent in some medium and higher latitudes.
• Reflective “cool roofs” can block up to 65 percent of the sun’s radiation.
• Urban forestry helps: Shade trees can lower surface temperatures of walls and buildings by more than 23°F.
• Reflective and permeable pavements lower surface summer temperatures, which can reach 108°F.

Adaptation is occurring in Canada, both in response to, and in anticipation of, the impacts of climate change. Adaptation initiatives have been undertaken by individuals and community groups as well as industry and governments. Much of this work has been achieved through informal actions or strategies in response to specific events or circumstances and where the capacity to take action existed.

Several initiatives address current risks and take into account the likely impacts of future climate change.


Selected Canadian examples:
• Hunters in the Arctic have increased the use of the global positioning systems to assist navigation in unpredictable or challenging weather.
• Homes and cottages are being built farther back from the coast.
• The community of Arctic Bay, NU, has shifted a portion of its narwhal quota from spring to summer hunts to reduce risks associated with ice break-up conditions, and to increase chances of hunting success.
• Residents of Pointe-du-Chêne, NB organized an emergency shelter in response to increasing flooding risk, and lobbied elected officials for less vulnerable road access.
• Thermosyphons, self-powered refrigeration devices, have been used in the construction of several major infrastructure projects in the North to induce artificial cooling of permafrost under warming conditions.
• Agricultural producers are purchasing crop insurance to offset losses caused by inclement weather.
• The town of Vanderhoof, BC is engaged in a vulnerability assessment pilot project with the Canadian Forest Service with a specific goal of being able to plan adaptation to climate change.
• New Brunswick’s Coastal Areas Protection Policy establishes set-backs for permanent structures and could facilitate planned retreat. (