What is the difference between Adaptation and Mitigation?

Mitigation strategies aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to the atmosphere or enhance GHGs sequestration. In contrast, adaptation strategies aim to incorporate climate considerations into management planning and activities and help adjust ecosystems to projected future climate. Adaptation and mitigation strategies should be viewed as complementary strategies to achieve management goals and objectives.

Adaptation options

  • Resistance actions improve an ecosystem’s defenses against climate change and other disturbances. Resistance actions aim to maintain relatively unchanged conditions and are generally envisioned for highly valuable ecosystems or those with low sensitivity to climate change. Resistance actions may have short-term effectiveness as the risk and investment to maintain a system increases under a changing climate.

  • Resilience actions accommodate some degree of change but encourage a return to a near-prior condition after a disturbance. This may include actions that alter the ecosystem structure and composition. Resilience actions aim to reduce the risk of severe fire or other disturbances. Resilience actions may have short-term effectiveness since, at some point, the return to historical conditions may be too costly or impossible because of climate departure.

  • Transition actions intentionally facilitate and accommodate change to help adapt to changing and new conditions. These may include introducing species expected to be adapted to future climate conditions while maintaining key ecosystem functions. Transition actions may include risk and investment upfront to adapt a system to changing conditions but are envisioned to have long-term effectiveness.

Test your knowledge: Fill out the figure with the appropriate adaptation option. The vertical gradient represents a continuum of management goals related to levels of desired (or tolerated) change in ecosystem attributes. The horizontal gradient represents the mechanisms for coping with climate change [Figure from Nagel et al., (2017)].

Adaptation options are further developed into strategies and detailed into approaches for a particular ecosystem. Tactics are the specific and measurable on-the-ground actions local to particular project’s objectives; the on-the-ground silvicultural prescription(s) to achieve the goal(s). An example of the on-the-ground application of climate change adaptation can be found in the San Juan National Forest, CO, as part of a network of experimental silvicultural trials called the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) project. Other examples of how managers and landowners are incorporating adaptation options into on-the-ground actions can be found on the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) website:

Adaptation Menus

A ‘menu’ of adaptation strategies and approaches is a list that presents options and guidance for land resource managers to help brainstorm adaptation actions from broad strategies and approaches; in other words, they help take broad ideas, such as resistance, resilience, and transition, and turn them into on-the-ground actions to meet your management objectives. The adaptation actions (also called tactics) should be tailored to specific locations and conditions, based on the vulnerability assessment, priorities, and traditional and local knowledge.

Available Adaptation Menus

The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) has led the development of adaptation strategies and approaches for a variety of natural resource topics and are freely available from the Climate Change Response Framework website ( We would like to highlight two menus.

Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu

The tribal adaptation menu presents a collaborative approach for adaptation actions for natural resource management based on Ojibwe and Menominee perspectives, languages, concepts and values, it was developed for the use of indigenous communities, tribal natural resource agencies and their non-indigenous partners.

Fire-Adapted Ecosystems Adaptation Menu

The Southwest FireClime in partnership with NIACS developed a menu to help land managers anticipate climate change impacts and identify actionable steps to adapt forests to changing fire regimes.


IPCC, 2014: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

Janowiak, M.K., Swanston, C.W., Nagel, L.M., Brandt, L.A., Butler, P.R., Handler, S.D., Shannon, P.D., Iverson, L.R., Matthews, S.N., Prasad, A. 2014. A practical approach for translating climate change adaptation principles into forest management actions. Journal of Forestry 112, 424–433.

Millar, C.I., N.L. Stephenson and S.L. Stephens. 2007. Climate change and forests of the future: Managing in the face of uncertainty. Ecological Applications 17(8):2145-2151.

Nagel, L.M., Palik, B.J., Battaglia, M.A., D’Amato, A.W., Guldin, J.M., Swanston, C.W., Janowiak, M.K., Powers, M.P., Joyce, L.A., Millar, C.I., Peterson, D.L., Ganio, L.M., Kirschbaum, C., Roske, M.R. 2017. Adaptive silviculture for climate change: a national experiment in manager–scientist partnerships to apply an adaptation framework. Journal of Forestry 115, 167–17.

Swanston, C.W., Janowiak, M.K., Brandt, L.A., Butler, P.R., Handler, S.D., Shannon, P.D., Derby Lewis, A., Hall, K., Fahey, R.T., Scott, L., Kerber, A., Miesbauer, J.W., Darling, L. 2016. Forest adaptation resources: climate change tools and approaches for land managers, 2nd ed. General Technical Report NRS-GTR-87-2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA.