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22 November 20233 minute read

Mitigation, adaptation and resilience: What’s the difference?

Climate negotiations involve a lot of technical language, and differentiating between the different types of action and the commitments made by each country can be challenging. This article provides an overview of three key terms – mitigation, adaptation, and resilience – and how they interact with each other.


Mitigation of climate change means reducing the impact of climate change on our planet. It involves human intervention to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[1] This an essential step in reaching net-zero and keeping global temperature increase below 1.5°C.

It includes all actions which remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including:

  • transitioning to low carbon sources of energy;
  • using emerging technologies to reduce or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;
  • protecting natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and
  • behaviour change to reduce our collective carbon footprint, such as using locally sourced materials and changing the way we travel.

Adaptation to climate change means adjusting to the effects of change on our planet.[2] It involves understanding the adverse effects of climate change and taking action to prepare for, adapt to and minimise those effects. It might also refer taking advantage of benefits arising from climate change. In short, it’s adapting to a new reality.

Examples of adaptation action include:

  • constructing defences against sea level rise;
  • taking action to protect buildings and infrastructure from slow and rapid onset weather events;
  • diversifying crops in farming and food production to reflect the warmer, colder or wetter conditions; and
  • behaviour change to adjust to the effects of climate change, such as reducing food waste.

Resilience to climate change means preparing for the impacts of climate change and building capacity to recover quickly from those impacts. Climate change resilience describes the ability and capacity to foresee and manage the adverse effects of climate. It’s often conflated with adaptation, and whilst it is related it is distinct. Whilst adaptation is the process of “adjust[ing] to the actual or expected climate and its effects”,[3] resilience is the actual capacity to prepare for these effects, particularly the capacity to ‘bounce back’ from dangerous climate-related events.

The following are examples of practices to increase climate resilience:

  • development of early warning systems to predict and monitor hazardous events including extreme weather events;
  • increasing green spaces in urban areas to increase flood absorption capacity; and
  • planting trees to help manage extreme heat in urban areas.
So how do they all fit together?

One of the reasons differentiating between mitigation, adaptation and resilience can be difficult is that they are all intrinsically linked. Efforts to reduce the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases will determine the extent to which people and places must adapt to the effects of climate change, and the level of resilience required to recover from unavoidable climate-related events. This also applies to financial support of mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and technology created to support actions in all three.


[1] IPCC, 2018: Annex I: Glossary [Matthews, J.B.R. (ed.)] accessed via

[2] IPCC, 2018: Annex I: Glossary [Matthews, J.B.R. (ed.)] accessed via

[3] IPCC, 2018: Annex I: Glossary [Matthews, J.B.R. (ed.)] accessed via