A sobering UN report has issued a stark warning, highlighting that the world remains alarmingly unprepared to confront the intensifying repercussions of the climate crisis, which are already adversely affecting billions of individuals globally. This report underscores that international financial support allocated to safeguard communities from the escalating threats of heatwaves, floods, and droughts is meager, ranging from a mere 5% to 10% of the required amount. Notably, this financial commitment has even witnessed a decline in recent years, precisely when the world was grappling with a surge in extreme weather events.
According to the UN Environment Programme (Unep), a staggering annual investment between $215 billion and $387 billion is imperative for climate adaptation in impoverished and vulnerable nations in this decade alone. Nevertheless, in 2021, these crucial funds decreased by a disconcerting 15%, plummeting to a paltry $21 billion.
This financial crisis comes at a critical juncture when rich nations pledged $40 billion by 2025 at the UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2021. This summit was convened to address the pressing need for adaptation measures to protect people from the impacts of climate change, running parallel to the efforts to curtail carbon emissions. Notably, adaptation investments have proven to be highly cost-effective. For instance, for every $1 billion invested in safeguarding coastal areas from flooding, the subsequent reduction in economic damages amounts to an impressive $14 billion.
The need for swift action on adaptation is imperative, as it holds the potential to limit future compensation payments through a loss and damage fund, a demand pushed forth by developing nations that they hope to see materialized at Cop28, commencing in the United Arab Emirates at the end of November.
The glaring truth is that no country is adequately prepared to confront the burgeoning impact of climate change. This report highlights that adaptation is not a matter of choice but a matter of survival. Regrettably, the recent adaptation plan in the United Kingdom is deemed insufficient and is currently facing legal challenges in its attempts to safeguard lives and livelihoods.
In the words of Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of Unep, “As a civilization, we are underprepared – we don’t have adequate planning or investments, and that leaves us all exposed.” She draws attention to the visible evidence of the climate crisis witnessed globally through devastating events like flooding in Europe and China, extreme heatwaves and wildfires in the United States and Canada, and drought in East Africa.
This dire situation is compounded by the fact that the world is still grappling with the untimely passing of Professor Saleemul Huq, a preeminent scientist in the field of climate adaptation. As he stated in June, “We are now in the era of losses and damages from climate change. Every day, week, month, and year from now on, things are going to get worse everywhere. Every country will be hit, and every country is unprepared to some extent.”
António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, acknowledges the tragic losses of lives and livelihoods, with the most vulnerable segments of the population enduring the brunt of the crisis. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that action has been faltering despite the escalating needs. To address this urgency, he calls upon governments to impose taxes on the windfall profits of the fossil fuel industry, emphasizing that the industry bears responsibility for the current predicament.
Tom Evans from the thinktank E3G underscores that adaptation measures are vital for survival in the face of increasingly frequent and severe climate impacts. He notes that procrastination and neglect of these critical tasks are no longer tolerable in light of the rapidly intensifying climate disasters. The ability of billions of people to navigate the dire consequences of climate breakdown hinges on the earnest attention of political leaders to this imperative.
The Unep report concludes that the ongoing climate action is lamentably insufficient to meet the temperature and adaptation objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement. Moreover, it emphasizes that the 55 most climate-vulnerable countries have already suffered damages exceeding $500 billion in the last two decades. These costs are anticipated to surge dramatically in the coming years, particularly in the absence of assertive efforts to curtail emissions.
The report underscores the necessity for protective measures, including coastal defenses to counteract rising sea levels, urban flood prevention in the face of increasingly intense storm downpours, and greater adaptability of cities to cope with heatwaves. Furthermore, the report emphasizes the need for the agricultural sector to adapt to more frequent droughts. Promoting and restoring green spaces is also vital, with success stories like the green corridors in Medellín, Colombia, showcasing their ability to reduce temperatures by 2°C. Mangroves are identified as natural barriers offering coastal storm protection. Additionally, the establishment of early warning systems to alert communities to impending extreme weather events is deemed crucial, with the UN aiming to reach every corner of the world by 2028.
The report acknowledges that over 80% of countries have developed national adaptation plans; however, the critical challenge lies in mobilizing the investment to implement these strategies. To address this gap, the report recommends vital reforms within international financial institutions, including the World Bank, to channel more funding towards climate adaptation. It also underscores the significance of augmented investments by national governments and the business sector.
Recognizing the burgeoning cost of loss and damage, the report advocates the exploration of innovative financing mechanisms, including levies on aviation and shipping and debt relief. While these strategies may spark controversy, the reality is that costs are continually on the rise, demanding a comprehensive exploration of all available opportunities to secure the necessary funding. Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister, recently championed the concept of a $25 billion global windfall tax on soaring profits within the oil and gas industry, an initiative supported by several wealthy petrostates. Brown highlights that these countries are capable of bearing the cost and the failure to redirect a fraction of these gains to the world’s most impoverished nations is a glaring injustice and a pressing moral imperative.