Abstract Adaptation to climate change and mitigation of climate change are policy substitutes, as both reduce the impacts of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation should therefore be analysed together, as they indeed are, albeit in a rudimentary way, in cost-benefit analyses of emission abatement. However, adaptation and mitigation are done by different people operating at different spatial and temporal scales. This hampers analysis of the trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation. An exception is facilitative adaptation (enhancing adaptive capacity), which, like mitigation, requires long-term policies at macro level. Facilitative adaptation and mitigation not only both reduce impacts, but they also compete for resources.