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Page last updated at 12:52 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 13:52 UK

The wrong way to a warmer world?

Man with monkey in Bangladesh flood

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: The wrong way to a warmer world? will be broadcast on Thursday, 3rd April 2008 at 20:30 and repeated on Sunday 6th April at 21.30 BST

Mitigation and adaptation. Two words we're going to have to get used to in the latest battle over climate change.

Over the past few years the key debate has been about the science - is the world really hotting up and, if so, are humans responsible?

There's still a minority of sceptics who question the idea of man-made global warming. The consensus, though, is that the earth is getting warmer - and that humans have helped turn up the thermostat.

The new debate that's splitting scientists, economists and politicians is not about whether the world is getting hotter but about how we should respond.

In this week's 'Analysis', Kenan Malik examines whether we should pour all our resources into mitigation - reducing our carbon emissions individually and collectively?

Or whether we should accept that the world is going to get warmer anyway and rather than worry too much about emissions, we should adapt to global warming by building better flood defences or developing drought-resistant crops?

Joan Ruddock MP
Joan Ruddock says the government is prioritising adaptation

For many environmentalists, shifting the debate from mitigation to adaptation is tantamount to treason, nothing short of genocide according to the biologist Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers and voted Australian of the Year for his campaigning on climate change.

He tells Analysis that the extent to which any of us can adapt to a warming planet is directly related to our economic wealth.

The Netherlands may be able to pay for large dyking infrastructure in the face of rising sea levels. But the people of Bangladesh cannot and will simply be washed away.

Adaptation is something that human beings have been doing on planet earth ever since we evolved from apes into humans, and even before perhaps.
Professor Roger Pielke

On the other side of the argument, economist Richard Tol, from the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, tells Analysis that pouring international resources into stringent greenhouse gas emission reduction is actually putting lives at risk in the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world.

Reducing our carbon emissions will be costly and will slow down economic growth in the West, taking money directly away from development aid.

Furthermore by restricting industrial progress in the developing world, these countries will have less income to adapt their infrastructures to cope with inevitable rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

In a significant change in language, the Minister responsible for Climate Change policy, Joan Ruddock, says that adaptation now has to be considered alongside mitigation.


  • Professor Roger Pielke University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Professor Richard Tol Economic and Research Institute, Dublin
  • Dimitri Zenghelis Head of the Stern Team, Office of Climate Change
  • Tim Flannery Author of "The Weather Makers"
  • Mark Lynas Writer and environmental activist
  • Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Climate Change)
  • Jose Romero - Chief advisor to Swiss government on Climate change
  • Professor James Woudhuysen De Montfort University
  • Presenter: Kenan Malik
    Producer: Mark Alden
    Editor: Hugh Levinson




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