The portfolio of approaches to respond to the challenges posed by anthropogenic climate change has broadened beyond mitigation and adaptation with the recent discussion of potential climate engineering options. How to define and categorize climate engineering options has been a recurring issue in both public and specialist discussions. We assert here that current definitions of mitigation, adaptation, and climate engineering are ambiguous, overlap with each other and thus contribute to confusing the discourse on how to tackle anthropogenic climate change. We propose a new and more inclusive categorization into five different classes: anthropogenic emissions reductions (AER), territorial or domestic removal of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases (D‐GGR), trans‐territorial removal of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases (T‐GGR), regional to planetary targeted climate modification (TCM), and climate change adaptation measures (including local targeted climate and environmental modification, abbreviated CCAM). Thus, we suggest that techniques for domestic greenhouse gas removal might better be thought of as forming a separate category alongside more traditional mitigation techniques that consist of emissions reductions. Local targeted climate modification can be seen as an adaptation measure as long as there are no detectable remote environmental effects. In both cases, the scale and intensity of action are essential attributes from the technological, climatic, and political viewpoints. While some of the boundaries in this revised classification depend on policy and judgement, it offers a foundation for debating on how to define and categorize climate engineering options and differentiate them from both mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change. WIREs Clim Change 2014, 5:23–35. doi: 10.1002/wcc.261
Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.