In combating climate change, interventions have mainly been channeled through two approaches – mitigation and adaptation. Activities to mitigate climate change include actions that reduce greenhouse gases and prevent further emissions. Adaptation refers to activities geared towards helping vulnerable communities already affected by climate change cope and build resilience.
Despite having intertwined objectives, the two practices were initially framed and have largely been pursued separately, leading to a lack of effectiveness and efficiency in concerted climate change actions.
Any attempts to link the two interventions have been through a complementary approach whereby if mitigation is the main intervention, a project ensures there are adaptation co-benefits alongside. But according to Dr Lalisa Duguma and his colleagues from the ASB Partnership at the World Agroforestry Centre, these attempts are only halfway through the journey to effectively address the problem.
In a just released journal article with the title, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the Land Use Sector: From Complementarity to Synergy, published in Environmental Management, the scientists argue that it is not just enough for the two climate approaches to complement each other. To achieve efficiency and effectiveness, it is important to have synergy between the two interventions.
What is synergy?
The study describes two forms of synergy: i) Additive synergy where in our case, the outcome would be realized from the individual independent effects of the mitigation and adaptation interventions; and ii) Non-additive synergy that can further be achieved in three categories, but here we focus on the super additive category that would be achieved if the outcome from interactions between the two interventions is greater than that gained from having the interventions act independent of each other. In this case, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.’
We recommend the super-additive synergy model in climate change as it increases efficiency, and it is cost effective. It takes advantage of the fact that resources involved in mitigation and adaptation measures are related and complementary, particularly in the land use sector where the resource is limited in certain regions like in the developing nations,” says Dr Duguma.
He further explains that the model is a step forward from the co-benefit based complementary approach as it targets to address priority problems of a particular area through a system-wide overhaul lens.
Synergy gives critical attention to system integrity and functionality necessitating the involvement of various stakeholders and sectors in an effort to reduce the possible tradeoffs due to their varying activities. This is in contrast with the top-down approach of having mitigation and adaptation complement with one being a co-benefit of the other.
Agroforestry and climate smart agriculture are among given examples of avenues to pursue synergy in agricultural landscapes, while those with a complementary approach would be in instances where a forest is established/conserved to sequester carbon or reduce emissions due to deforestation, but with other benefits of regulating climate and or being a habitat for wildlife.
Achieving mitigation-adaptation synergy
Dr Peter Minang’, a co-author in the study notes that the study developed four elements needed to move from complementarity to synergy.
First, there is need to identify practices such as agroforestry that have strong interconnectedness of adaptation and mitigation; then move to understanding the processes needed to activate synergy such as having the right institutions and funding mechanisms in place, as well as involving various stakeholders.
Another measure involves addressing tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation. This is best illustrated in a case where tree species used in reforestation consume a lot of water, limiting availability of the commodity to the surrounding communities.
Lastly, national and local policies that provide a framework to actualize these measures and give necessary incentives for private sector and community involvement are proposed as the basis for actualizing synergy in a holistic, system-wide approach.
In Tanzania, the Ngitili system, a national intervention to deal with desertification through tree regeneration and conservation is one example where climate change has been addressed through a multifunctional approach without looking at the intervening efforts as either being mitigation or adaptation. The system has also had significant economic benefits to the local communities. Read more here.
“We can realize synergy in adaptation and mitigation at a global scale, however certain challenges have to be addressed,” says Dr Meine van Noordwijk, who is also a co-author in the study. These challenges include the current international framing of mitigation and adaptation as separate interventions, the view that mitigation is the best way to achieve adaptation, the lack of proper methodologies for analyzing the synergy approach, and uncertainties on which practices can be optimized to give maximum synergy benefits. He is quick to add though that these are challenges to be addressed through continuous dialogue at global, national and subnational policy levels and increased research studies on the subject.
Read the article on open access:
Duguma, L. A., Minang, P. A., van Noordwijk, M. 2014. Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the Land Use Sector: From Complementarity to Synergy. Environmental Management. DOI: 10.1007/s00267-014-0331-x
Read more on a framework of conditions necessary for synergy