Time is running out for a large part of the climate work. An important part is about protecting communities from future droughts, floods and torrential rains. But the work is still far too slow, according to a new UN report.
Adaptations to cope with climate change are described as one of the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement – in addition to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Because even if emissions are halted, climate change is already underway, and they are expected to have dramatic effects on both societies and ecosystems over large parts of the world.
Climate adaptations include protecting the population, agriculture and important societal functions against floods, heavy rainfall, sea level rise, droughts and heat waves.
But according to a new report from the UN’s environmental program UNEP – Adaption Gap Report 2020 – the work is lagging behind sharply.
– For a long time, priority has been given to reducing emissions. But now we see that the climate is changing, and it is really high time to speed up climate adaptation, says Åsa Persson who is head of research at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and who has been commissioned to expert review parts of the report.
A positive development is that 72 percent of the countries within the Paris Agreement have developed national plans for at least some type of climate adaptation. And another 9 percent are in the planning phase.
But when it comes to turning the plans into reality, things are much slower. Of the 1,700 projects studied in the UN report, the vast majority were still at a very early stage, and only 3 per cent were judged to contribute to climate adaptation in practice.
Lack of funding
Broadly speaking, it is the world’s poor and less developed countries that will be hardest hit by climate change. A crucial bottleneck for getting the work of climate adaptation started is therefore the financing, Åsa Persson explains.
– There is a positive trend for how much money comes through the various UN funds and from aid. But the level is still far too low, compared to what it costs.
Costs are also expected to grow. Today, the need for developing countries’ climate adaptation is estimated at around $ 70 billion per year. In another 30 years, the cost may have grown to nearly $ 500 billion.
Multiple goals at once
This year’s Adaptation Gap Report focuses in particular on so-called nature-based solutions. For example, it could be facing sea rises with resistant mangrove swamps, instead of physical barriers. Or to parry heat waves in cities with increased vegetation instead of air conditioning. Plants can also absorb water during heavy rains and thus prevent floods.
– The best are projects that can meet several goals, for example act as carbon sinks and increase biodiversity at the same time. Previous research has shown that climate adaptations can provide four times as much benefit for every dollar invested, if you include such benefits, says Åsa Persson.
Although the need for climate adaptation is often regarded as a local issue in the countries directly affected, research by Åsa Persson and her colleagues at SEI, among others, shows that the consequences will also affect relatively spared countries such as Sweden.
– Not much is discussed in this report, but it is important to also see the cross-border climate effects. It can be about being dependent on food from other countries, having investments in vulnerable countries – and migration, which is a big issue, says Åsa Persson.
Facts: UN Environment Program UNEP
UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) was formed in 1972 after an environmental conference for the UN in Stockholm.
The organization’s mission is to lead and coordinate the UN’s environmental work – and to “improve people’s quality of life in ways that do not affect the quality of life of future generations”.
The assignment also includes organizing conferences and promoting cooperation between countries for sustainable development.
For example, UNEP compiles reports on climate change, environmental toxins and energy resources.
The headquarters are located in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The organization is currently led by the Danish economist Inger Andersen, who has previously worked at the World Bank, among others.
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