To mitigate or to adapt: is that the

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The World Bank Research Observer Advance Access published September 2, 2009

To Mitigate or to Adapt: Is that the Question? Observations on an Appropriate Response to the Climate Change Challenge to Development Strategies

Zmarak Shalizi † Franck Lecocq
Climate change is a new and important challenge to development strategies. In light of the current literature a framework for assessingresponses to this challenge is provided. The presence of climate change makes it necessary to at least review development strategies—even in apparently nonclimate-sensitive and nonpolluting sectors. There is a need for an integrated portfolio of actions ranging from avoiding emissions (mitigation) to coping with impacts (adaptation) and to consciously accepting residual damages. Proactive (ex ante)adaptation is critical, but subject to risks of regrets when the magnitude or location of damages is uncertain. Uncertainty on location favors nonsite-specific actions, or reactive (ex post) adaptation. However, some irreversible losses cannot be compensated for. Thus, mitigation might be in many cases the cheapest long-term solution to climate change problems and the most important to avoidthresholds that may trigger truly catastrophic consequences. To limit the risks that budget constraints prevent developing countries from financing reactive adaptation—especially since climate shocks might erode the fiscal base—“rainy-day funds” may have to be developed within countries and at the global level for transfer purposes. Finally, more research is required on the impacts of climate change, onmodeling the interrelations between mitigation and adaptation, and on operationalizing the framework. JEL codes: O10, Q54, Q56

Until recently, policymakers and development experts could at least assume that where there was water today, there would still be water in the future. Or that
# The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Bank for Reconstructionand Development / THE WORLD BANK. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org doi;10.1093/wbro/lkp012 1–27

where there was a coastline suitable for a port, that coastline would still be there in the future. In other words, the geographical and physical foundations for development, and for the determination of competitive advantage, were treated asstable and reliable. This presumption is no longer true, as climate change threatens to bring about important shifts in precipitation and weather patterns, sea levels, and water flows (IPCC 2007a), ratcheting up pressure on the land and on ecosystems (IPCC 2007b), thereby making previously stable parameters less stable. In fact the fingerprints of climate change are increasingly evident in changingweather patterns across the globe. From a developing country perspective, climate change is thus yet another important (and new) challenge within which development takes place. It may bring new opportunities, but also many constraints and risks. As such, development and growth will be taking place against a new headwind. The key question for developing countries is the extent to which this newchallenge— climate change—will modify the allocation of resources in development strategies. For a variety of reasons, the international debate on climate change is currently framed around “reducing emissions”, that is, mitigation. Since we all emit greenhouse gases (GHG) into a shared atmosphere, protecting the quality of the atmosphere as a global public good requires global collective action.Developed countries have taken some (modest) emission reduction commitments, and developing countries are now under pressure to commit to emissions targets as well. Developing countries have resisted this call on the grounds that they have contributed little to the current concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere and that they cannot afford to increase the cost of development given their poverty and...
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