What is climate change adaptation and 10 other questions about climate action answered

game based learning

Can you explain off the top of your head what is climate change adaptation or what is climate change mitigation? What about how sustainability and climate action relate to each other? Here’s your chance to refresh your memory on key concepts and maybe even share with colleagues, family or friends to inspire more climate action!

1. Back to the basics: What is climate change again?

Climate change means shifting temperatures and weather patterns in a geographical location or on the global level. And yes, it impacts all of us living on this planet. Climate is  different to weather as it refers to long-term trends over time, rather than daily or one-off variations. The weather means that it can rain one morning and be sunny in the afternoon, or it can be unusually cold one winter and warm the next. These variations in weather are normal, but when there are shifts in long-term averages in temperature or precipitation patterns, we can talk about climate change. One hot summer doesn’t indicate global warming, but reaching record temperatures year-on-year in an increasing frequency does.


Unfortunately we humans have caused climate to change since we started burning fossil fuels. What happens is that the fuel burning process releases greenhouse gases, which in turn capture more of the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This leads to rising temperatures over time. Observed trends across different environmental variables point to overall warming in the Earth’s climate in the last few hundred years. Climate change is measured through variables such as global average temperature, sea level rise, ocean heat content, and arctic sea ice. 

Emissions of greenhouse gases still continue to rise due to heavy investments in fossil fuels, but countries, cities, and companies around the world are taking action to address climate change. The intensity of climate change impacts in the future depends on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the way the Earth’s climate responds to those emissions, and how we adapt to climate change.

2. How has the Earth’s climate changed in the past, and how is current climate change different?

The Earth’s climate changes both naturally and because of human impacts. Natural changes are caused by variations to the distance between Earth and the Sun, or changes to the amount of solar radiation from the Sun. These changes have happened as long as the Earth has existed, and have caused climatic variability such as ice ages. Natural changes to the Earth’s climate usually happen slowly over the course of thousands or even millions of years.

Human activities have become the main cause of climate change since the 1800s. This is due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The current changes to the climate are happening much faster than natural climate variation, causing pressure for ecosystems and human societies to adapt to the new climatic conditions. The Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than in the late 1800s. This may not seem like much, but small differences in average temperatures already start to cause noticeable impacts like the increased extreme weather events we are seeing now.

3. What are some current and future climate change impacts?

Climate change is leading to many unprecedented shifts to the Earth’s climate. Average temperatures are rising, which leads to impacts on several different aspects of the climate. Impacts include longer and more intense heat waves, wildfires and sea level rise. There can also be changes to rainfall patterns, leading to more intense storms, flooding and droughts.


These impacts affect people and wildlife across different regions in different ways, so it can be interesting to read up on how climate change will affect where you live. In the worst case climate change may make some regions uninhabitable. For example islands in the Pacific Ocean are threatened by rising sea levels. 


Changes to habitat can also lead to declining wildlife populations, made worse by other concurrent threats such as overfishing or habitat loss. Many people are finding solutions that help both people and wildlife adapt to climate change, for example by implementing nature-based solutions.


Many climate impacts are already becoming more visible. We hear about wildfires, floods and storms often in the news. The more the temperature goes up, the more intense and unpredictable these impacts are projected to become. Join our interactive activities to make sense of it all together with your group.

4. What are climate change awareness and action?

Climate change awareness refers to the knowledge and understanding people have about climate change. For example, knowing what is climate change adaptation, or what to do to make a difference about climate change can be considered a part of climate awareness.

Meanwhile, climate action is an effort to tackle climate change and its impacts. This can either be in the form of climate mitigation, which means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or climate adaptation, which means adjusting to the current and future effects of climate change. What is a climate action plan, then? There are many climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be used to address climate impacts. A climate action plan is a practical stepwise approach that an organisation can implement to mitigate and adapt to relevant climate change impacts.

Countries have come together to make global agreements to coordinate climate action. These include the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement aims to keep global warming under 1.5°C or 2°C. Several countries have promised to get to “net zero” by 2050. This would mean continuing to reduce emissions, and balancing the remaining emissions by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere through carbon sinks. In addition to efforts at the country level, there are also a lot of possiblities at city, community and organisational level to discuss climate change awareness and action.

5. What is climate change mitigation?

Climate change mitigation means reducing or preventing emissions of greenhouse gases before they are released into the atmosphere. And what is climate change mitigation aiming to do, exactly? Current international agreements aim to reduce emissions enough to keep the global temperature rise to under 1.5°C to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In other words, they try to reduce the intensity of climate change impacts by curtailing global temperature rise. 


Ways to mitigate climate change include changing energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable energy, like solar or wind power, or increasing energy efficiency. It can also include broader changes to people’s behaviour, such as incentivising people to fly less or eat different foods. Mitigation also includes increasing carbon sinks, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon sinks include forests, which makes planting trees and conserving forests another mitigative measure against climate change.

6. What is climate change adaptation?

We are already seeing climate change impacts taking place around the world, such as more intense heatwaves or increasing frequency of extreme weather events. Greenhouse gas emissions are also still rising. Even with commitments to cut down on emissions, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to rise for the coming decades. This means that mitigation is not enough as a strategy to address climate change. We also need to adapt to the changes that are already happening, or are likely to happen in the future. 


Climate change adaptation means measures that adjust existing practices to take current or expected changes to the climate into account. It can include measures that try to reduce damages, but also measures that take advantage of opportunities. Adaptation can be  building flood protection near coastlines, changing the type of crops that are farmed in drought-prone areas, or making infrastructure more heat-resistant in places where temperatures are becoming increasingly hot. 


What is effective climate change adaptation can look different depending on the place, because climate change impacts are not uniform across the world. This is why adaptation needs active participation from communities, organisations, and the public and private sector, to be effective and sustained in the long-term. This is why we invite you to be part of our collective action, and answer “what is climate change adaptation?” for your community and organisation.

7. What are examples of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies?

Let’s take a practical look at how you can approach developing climate adaptation action plans at your organisation. The first thing you need to know when planning climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in your surroundings is finding out what climate impacts are most relevant for your area or sector. Try to make this practical: think about what climate change can mean for you and your organisation, and how you would respond to different changes. This will help you prioritise needed measures and recognise where you have the biggest opportunity to make an impact. 

For mitigation, you can think about where energy is consumed in your organisation, and start by picking low fruit: is it possible to drop the temperature in your office to conserve energy, for example? Already a 1°C drop in room temperature makes a difference for energy consumption. 

For adaptation, you can think about the likely effects of climate change in your area. For example, if you are expecting long hot periods or heatwaves in the summer, you can suggest flexible working hours at your office so that staff can work in the evenings. If there are likely to be increased wildfires, you can encourage your staff to take time off to volunteer for firefighting services.

What are climate change mitigation strategies?

Here are some examples: 

  • Increasing energy efficiency, e.g. through better insulation in office buildings and reducing use of heating/AC
  • Switching to renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydropower or geothermal energy
  • Favouring low-emission technologies, e.g. electric cars
  • Reducing traffic emissions, e.g. encouraging your staff to ride a bicycle to work or reducing air travel for international conferences through joining online instead
  • Increasing carbon sinks, e.g. planting native trees for your staff members’ birthday

What are climate change adaptation strategies?

Here are some examples: 

  • Building resilience against climate disasters such as storms and floods, e.g. protecting infrastructure or investing in insurance and early warning systems
  • Adjusting to drought, e.g. through water efficiency measures or investing in rain water collection
  • Integrating climate considerations into decision-making at the organisation, e.g. as a part of annual strategies
  • Engaging stakeholders on climate change discussions, e.g. what are the climate impacts experienced at different parts of the supply chain or in partner organisations
  • Mapping opportunities that come up relating to climate change, e.g. identifying new innovations in your sector

Read more about climate action strategies.

8. How are sustainability and climate action related to each other?

Climate action is an important part of sustainability, but the words are not synonymous. Sustainability refers broadly to environmental, social and economic factors that are required to keep society functioning long into the future. A commonly used definition of sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs within the planet’s physical boundaries.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an international UN framework that addresses issues ranging from poverty alleviation to life on land under 17 goals. SDG Goal 13 is Climate Action, which “calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” It is an important component to achieve all the other SDGs, because climate change influences the other topic areas in one way or another. Meanwhile, Goal 13 also provides guidelines to reduce emissions and improve resilience to climate change impacts.

9. How do cross cutting issues like justice and gender relate to climate change?

Climate change awareness and action take different forms depending on who is involved. Groups with different income levels, geographical locations and personal attributes such as gender or ethnic group can experience different impacts, and bring different knowledge into the discussion.


Climate justice takes into account how climate change impacts different populations. Groups such as people living on small islands or drought-prone areas are already experiencing the worst effects of climate change. This may lead to increased numbers of climate refugees, who have to leave their homes due to increased risks.


There is also an historical aspect to climate justice. Some countries have released more greenhouse gas emissions than others – the 10 countries with the largest emissions contribute 68% of the global total. Meanwhile, vulnerable groups in developing countries, who have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions, may struggle to find resources to adapt to climate impacts. Key human rights issues related to climate change include access to water, sanitation and health.


Women and girls also often face bigger risks from climate change in situations of poverty or agricultural employment. Many women and girls are especially dependent on natural resources, and may face difficulties when procuring food, water and fuel for their families. Women are often unequally represented in decision-making and the labour market, so their voice may not get heard.


Representation and inclusion of women, vulnerable groups and indigenous peoples, among others, into climate decision-making is important to ensure a just transition into a more sustainable and climate resilient future. 

10. What’s the next step for you?

Now that you’ve freshened up your knowledge about climate change, are you ready to take climate action? 


There are many things you can do as an individual to reduce your carbon footprint or adapt your living environment to a changing climate. But together we are stronger, so why not get other people involved? What can you do about climate change in your organisation or community? Working together with others can bring energy and enthusiasm into climate action, as you are able to brainstorm new ideas and incorporate climate considerations as a part of your organisational culture. 


The first step to address climate change is getting people talking about it. You can bring climate change up in a strategy meeting at work, or find out what emissions your team may already be measuring or trying to reduce. If you need an icebreaker to get into the topic, you can also organise a team building day for climate change awareness and action. Day of Adaptation offers two collaborative activities to get your team talking about climate change: Game Day and Dialogue Day. This can be a great opportunity to start the conversation, and get on your way to make a tangible difference with people in your team. Let’s show climate change who the real experts are in our communities and organisations.


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