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Study finds benefits of uniting climate mitigation, adaptation

The UN COP 28 climate talks have ended, and only time will tell how their outcomes affect greenhouse emissions.

But with extreme climate events already upon us, a new study in the journal Nature Cities asks, “What if we lessen heat impacts while the slow mitigation process takes hold?”

“Even in the situation that we reduce emissions to zero at this moment, these benefits aren't going to be felt immediately,” said lead author Matei Georgescu, director of ASU’s Urban Climate Research Center. “But local adaptation is going to have benefits that are going to be felt immediately.”

The issue’s urgency rises as the world grows more urbanized. In 1950, around one-third of people globally lived in cities. Today that numbers is closer to one-half, and experts project it will reach two-thirds by 2050.

Meanwhile, studies show that global urban exposure to extreme heat is also rising.

But while much ink has been spilled over reducing urban climate change impacts, past research has dealt almost exclusively with either adaptation or mitigation, not both.

In this paper, researchers compared how climate change adaptation and reduction, separately and together, affected heat exposure in the U.S. through the end of the century.

Combining climate models with projections of urban expansion, greenhouse gas emissions and population migration, they found the effects differed by latitude.

But combining the two approaches often led to benefits greater than the sum of their parts, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. The effect was positive, though less synergistic, in the Sun Belt.

Georgescu says the findings finally put numbers to what we already know to be true.

“Adapting now is very important while we continue to work on reducing emissions,” he said.

Future work will look at modeling at the level of neighborhoods, many of which bear an unequal heat burden.

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.