What can we Do about Climate Change?

Climate change is not a future possibility. It is part of the current reality for UKOTs and the entire global community. UKOTs are negligible producers of greenhouse gases, but are extremely vulnerable to the effects of their increased concentration in the atmosphere and many of them have economies that are very dependent on climate-sensitive natural resources. It is because of this vulnerability that the territories cannot afford to ignore climate change or put off taking decisive action to reduce its impacts and increase their resilience. 


Even if all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were to stop today, UKOTs and other countries would continue to feel the impacts of climate change for decades to come. The time that it takes for greenhouse gases to breakdown in the atmosphere varies greatly. The atmospheric lifetime for methane is 12 years, some chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) can persist for more than 500 years. However, that is not the full story. All greenhouse gases continue contributing to global warming for years after they have broken down in the atmosphere. This is why it is so important for the global community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Adaptation and mitigation

In addition to producing less greenhouse gas emissions and removing them from the atmosphere, effectively addressing climate-induced change requires a mix of approaches and strategies to prepare for and respond to its various impacts on both society and nature. 


Adaptation is about being ready for climate change and responding to it by minimising the risks it presents to people’s lives and livelihoods. It includes building capacity and putting measures in place to cope with and recover from impacts, as well as to live with climate-induced changes and take advantage of any benefits they might offer.  Adaptation can be done at different levels – national, community or even individual. The benefits of adaptation are immediate (short- to medium-term) and often localised.


Mitigation is a means of stemming climate change impacts. However, just as the effects of climate change felt today are the result of actions in the past, the benefits of mitigation will not be felt immediately. The benefits are global and will be realised in the future, even though the costs are immediate and local. Robust, early mitigation will reduce the cost of adaptation over the long term (Stern, 2007). Mitigation refers to using policies and other interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the functioning of carbon and greenhouse gas sinks. While adaptation deals with ‘weathering’ current and future impacts in the best possible way, the idea behind mitigation is to go from present levels of climate change impacts to reduced levels in the future.  The international mechanism for doing this is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This treaty and its instruments aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using 1990 as a baseline year, in order to combat climate change). 


“Both and”, not “either or”

Good climate policy aims to both adapt and mitigate. Adaptation is crucial because even the most rigorous mitigation measures taken today will not stave off the negative effect of the warming already in process.  Unmitigated climate change at the current rate will challenge the capacity of man and nature to adapt.


Given the small contribution the they make to greenhouse gas emissions and the great extent to which they are affected by global warming, the thrust towards adaptation will be greater in UKOTs than the adoption of mitigative strategies. Even so, there is a scope for them to promote and adopt mitigation options that contribute to the global effort, while advancing their national development agendas.


“Good climate policy aims to both adapt and mitigate.”



See also

Mainstreaming Adaptation

Policy Responses

How individuals and Businesses can Make a Difference

The Way Forward