To address the climate emergency and transition to a low carbon and resilient future, decision-makers and practitioners need to implement integrated strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change (mitigation) and prepare for unavoidable climate change impacts (adaptation).  

Powerful synergies exist for integrating adaptation and mitigation measures. These include the potential for proactive, cost-effective solutions that reduce risks and uncertainties while generating social, ecological and economic co-benefits. Faced with capacity limitations, budget constraints, aging infrastructure, and a pressing need to prepare for climate impacts such as sea level rise, flooding, and heatwaves, local governments have good reason to pursue policy synergies and integrative solutions.  

That said, local government must also navigate potential conflicts and trade-offs arising from competing mitigation and adaptation objectives. Such conflicts emerge from the fact that adaptation and mitigation measures are effective at different scales. This means even though climate change is an international issue, adaptation benefits tend to be local and relatively immediate, while mitigation benefits tend to be global and take longer. Mitigation and adaptation efforts also involve different municipal departments and sectoral actors, as well as different implementation policies. In local government, mitigation tends to be a priority for departments focused on energy, procurement, transportation, or waste management. Adaptation on the other hand is typically prioritized by engineering, public works, parks and recreation, and fire departments that are concerned with roads, sewer stormwater management, facilities, parks and trails, health, and safety respectively; all of which may suffer climate impacts. Despite these challenges, it is possible to integrate mitigation and adaptation measures by pursuing the following strategies. 

Win-win solutions  

Strategies that cool communities, improve air quality, increase resource and energy conservation and efficiency (especially in the built environment), and enhance carbon storage through thoughtful land use and urban forestry can have mitigation and adaptation benefits, while providing important co-benefits for equity, the economy, the environment, and human health and wellbeing.  

Areas of Synergy: 

  • Asset Management: Protecting and enhancing community-owned and operated assets (built infrastructure and natural assets) by supporting and incentivizing energy efficient buildings (e.g., heat pumps) and installing blue/green infrastructure such as green roofs, vegetated boulevards, and rain gardens can minimize vulnerability, emissions, and costs, while generating co-benefits in the form of improved recreational opportunities, green space, health, jobs, and biodiversity. 
  • Integrated Planning: By embedding climate action into community plans, corporate strategy, capital and investment decisions, and land-use planning, and conversely embedding land use into climate action plans, future vulnerabilities and emissions can be anticipated and mitigated, while reducing costs and building resilience.  
  • Smart growth and (re)development: Compact development (e.g., 15-minute neighbourhoods, complete communities) that provides a variety of transportation, mobility and housing options, not only reduces emissions and infrastructure costs, but can advance health and equity too. Redevelopment that focuses on gentle density, infill and restoring the “missing middle” supports income diversity, affordability, and walkable access to services and transit. 

Across all areas of synergy, using an equity and health lens when making decisions helps to prioritize the needs of all members of the community and illuminates important co-benefits of integrated climate action.  

Many BC communities have already adopted strategies that integrate mitigation and adaptation measures. For instance:  

  • The City of Vancouver has implemented a green roof policy that requires some new buildings to include roof top grasses or gardens. Not only do green roofs reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also absorb stormwater from high precipitation events and help keep cities cool by reducing the urban heat island effect.  
  • By actively protecting and renewing its tree cover, the City of Burnaby applies ecosystem-based and natural approaches to sequester carbon while strengthening resilience to higher temperatures, drought and flooding. 
  • The City of Coquitlam’s Transit Oriented Development Strategy outlines principles of transit-oriented development for new development around future stations, including supportive densities, pedestrian-friendly streets, and a mix of land uses to allow more people to live and work close to high quality transit service. Transit-oriented development decreases tailpipe emissions and increases resident’s resilience through enhanced mobility.  
  • The District of Saanich’s award-winning 2020 Climate Plan: 100% Renewable and Resilient Saanich addresses both mitigation and adaptation in the wider Saanich community and District’s operations. The first priority identified in the plan is to increase investment in active transportation to reduce both territorial and consumption-based emissions, improve air quality, and promote health and equity.  

Operationalizing Low Carbon Resilience 

To help navigate potential conflicts and illuminate win-win solutions, the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) has created the “Low carbon resilience” (LCR) lens, which brings together mitigation and adaptation strategies in planning, policy and implementation processes. In a 2019 survey of local government staff, ACT’s Integrated Climate Action for BC Communities Initiative (ICABCCI) team, identified these top 5 priority opportunities for embedding an integrated LCR approach in practice: 

  • Support from senior leadership 
  • Financial reasons for taking integrated action (e.g., business case, cost-benefit) 
  • Funding  
  • Tools and knowledge sharing for taking integrated action 
  • Clear definition of how it fits into departments, roles, and outcomes 

To learn more about LCR, check out  SFU ACT’s Low Carbon Resilience  

WCS Engagement + Planning Approach to Climate Action 

Our work in this area, at both the climate action planning and implementation stages, has shown that although it can be difficult to negotiate trade-offs and minimize conflicts between competing climate change objectives, it is possible to do so while identifying win-win strategies and co-benefits. Book a consult today to discover where those synergies exist in your community.  

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District of Saanich, (2020). 2020 Climate Action Plan: 100% Renewable and Resilient Saanich. Available online: 

Federation of Canadian Municipalities (undated). Guide for Integrating Climate Change Considerations into Municipal Asset Management. Available online:  

Grafakos, S., Pacteau, C., Delgado, M., Landauer, M., Lucon, O., and Driscoll, P. (2018). Integrating mitigation and adaptation: Opportunities and challenges. In Rosenzweig, C., W. Solecki, P. Romero-Lankao, S. Mehrotra, S. Dhakal, and S. Ali Ibrahim (eds.), Climate Change and Cities: Second Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. Cambridge University Press. New York. 101–138  

Locatelli, B. (2011). Synergies between adaptation and mitigation in a nutshell. Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin: Synergies Between Mitigation and Adaptation (COBAM). Available online: 

Shaw, A., Burch, S., Kristensen, F., Robinson, J., & Dale, A. (2014). Accelerating the sustainability transition: Exploring synergies between adaptation and mitigation in British Columbian communities. Global Environmental Change, 25, 41–51. 

Shaw, A., Harford, D., and Tolsma, K. (2019). Action for BC Communities Initiative Survey 1: Summary Report, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Available online: