While climate adaptation planning is more widespread than ever, the U.N. says the gap between current spending and needed funding is enormous, and widening.
- There is a huge gulf between what communities are spending to prepare for climate change and what they ought to spend, a new U.N. report found.
- This gap is widening, as the costs of climate adaptation increase due to rising global temperatures.
- Global climate finance has emerged as a key tension at the ongoing COP26 climate conference, as many vulnerable nations say they simply do not have the resources to curb emissions or adapt to climate change absent financial support.
By Laura Gersony, Circle of Blue — November 8, 2021
The world doesn’t spend nearly enough adapting to the risks of climate change, a U.N. report found.
According to the U.N Environment Program’s Adaptation Gap report, there is a huge gulf between what communities are spending to prepare for rising seas and ferocious droughts and what they ought to spend. The annual adaptation needs of developing countries could reach $140 billion to $300 billion by the end of this decade. Global annual spending on adaptation currently is only about $46 billion. This gap is widening, as the costs of climate adaptation increase due to rising global temperatures.
“This report clearly shows that we need a step change in adaptation ambition for funding and implementation to significantly reduce damages and losses from climate change,” Inger Anderson, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), wrote in the report’s foreword. “And we need it now.”
A growing body of scientific research shows that even if society were to halt emissions overnight, a certain amount of atmospheric warming—and accompanying environmental risks—would still occur. National commitments made last week at the COP26 climate conference to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions would warm the planet by 1.8 degrees Celsius, according to the International Energy Agency. That is more ambitious than earlier pledges, but it still exceeds the Paris agreement goal of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
As a result, climate adaptation looms large over the ongoing U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, where the report was released. Global climate finance has emerged as a key tension, as many vulnerable nations say they simply do not have the resources to curb emissions or adapt to climate change absent financial support. The Covid-19 pandemic has only added strain on the most vulnerable.
“It has been very difficult for them to just meet their normal fiscal burden,” Anderson told The Washington Post, “in addition to the health burden, in addition to the social cost of supporting people who are no longer working, in addition to loss of revenue.”
“They are squeezed on all sides,” she said. “That leaves very little fiscal space for additional expenditure on adaptation.”
The report noted wealthy nations’ unkept promise to deliver $100 billion in annual climate aid by 2020. They gave only around $80 billion in 2019, and world leaders recently announced that this figure is not expected to reach $100 billion until 2023, three years behind schedule. Some analysts say that even these numbers are inflated, as they include aid that does not explicitly target climate action, such as road construction projects.
Mohamed Adow, head of the environmental think tank Power Shift Africa, said that this failure marks a real threat to climate negotiations.
“The $100 billion of climate finance is not only a lifeline to poor and vulnerable communities on the front line of a climate crisis they did not cause, it’s also the bare minimum that rich countries need to do to hold up their end of the bargain at COP26,” Adow told the Associated Press.
Worldwide, the report found, climate change adaptation policy and planning is more common than ever. Nearly 90 percent of countries either have adopted, or are in the process of developing, a national climate adaptation strategy.
Still, the cost of adaptation will only increase every year that carbon emissions continue unchecked.
“As the world looks to step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions – efforts that are still not anywhere strong enough – it must also dramatically up its game to adapt to climate change,” Anderson wrote.
Laura Gersony covers water policy, infrastructure, and energy for Circle of Blue. She also writes FRESH, Circle of Blue’s biweekly digest of Great Lakes policy news, and HotSpots H2O, a monthly column about the regions and populations most at-risk for water-related hazards and conflict. She is an Environmental Studies and Political Science major at the University of Chicago and an avid Lake Michigan swimmer.