According to a report by the United Nations, the world’s response to climate change and impending disaster is falling far short of what is needed.
The world is “woefully” underprepared for the escalating impacts of the climate crisis that is already hitting billions of people across the globe, a stark UN report has warned.
International funding to protect communities against heatwaves, floods and droughts is just 5-10% of what is needed today and actually fell in recent years, just as extreme weather hit even harder.
The UN Environment Programme (Unep) report estimated that between $215bn and $387bn a year is needed for climate adaptation in poor and vulnerable countries alone this decade. However, funding fell by 15% – to just $21bn – in 2021, the report said.
Rich nations pledged at the UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2021 to provide $40bn by 2025. Providing the adaptation measures needed to shield people from climate effects is a top priority for the Cop28 summit, which begins in the United Arab Emirates on 30 November, alongside cutting carbon emissions.
Adaptation is highly cost-effective with, for example, every $1bn invested in protection against coastal flooding leading to a $14bn reduction in economic damages, the report said. Furthermore, protective measures would limit the future compensation to be paid through a new loss and damage fund that developing countries are demanding is made operational at Cop28.
Every country is underprepared for climate impacts, experts said, making adaptation a “matter of survival”. In the UK, for example, a recent adaptation plan “fell far short” of ensuring the protection of lives and livelihoods and is now being challenged in the courts.
“As a civilisation, we are underprepared – we don’t have adequate planning or investments, and that leaves us all exposed,” said Inger Andersen, the executive director of Unep. “In 2023, climate change yet again became more disruptive and deadly. We’ve seen the evidence before our very eyes and on our TV screens again and again.” She highlighted flooding in Europe and China, extreme heat and wildfires in the US and Canada, and drought in east Africa.
Andersen said the fall in adaptation funding was hugely worrying: “This has massive implications for people left to face the full force of climate impacts without any shield.” On limiting loss and damage, she said: “The longer you leave [adaptation], the greater the pain is going to be.”
She said the pre-eminent adaptation scientist was Prof Saleemul Huq, who died last week, and said the global situation was summed up in his quote from 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, said: “Lives and livelihoods are being lost and destroyed, with the vulnerable suffering the most. Yet as needs rise, action is stalling. The world must take action to close the adaptation gap and deliver climate justice.
“Fossil fuel barons and their enablers have helped create this mess; they must support those suffering as a result [so] I call on governments to tax the windfall profits of the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
Tom Evans at the thinktank E3G said: “Adaptation is a matter of survival in the face of increasingly severe and frequent climate impacts. For far too long, these complex and difficult tasks have been overlooked.”
He added: “But with climate disasters coming on much faster and more severely than anticipated, this short-termism needs to stop. The ability of billions of people to cope with climate breakdown hinges on political leaders taking this agenda far more seriously.”
The Unep report concluded: “Current climate action is woefully inadequate to meet the temperature and adaptation goals of the Paris agreement.” It said the 55 most climate-vulnerable countries alone have suffered damages of more than $500bn in the last two decades: “These costs will rise steeply in the coming decades, particularly in the absence of forceful [emissions cuts].”
Protection measures needed included coastal defences, with rising seas threatening millions, and urban flood prevention, with storm downpours becoming more intense. Cities needed to become better adapted to heatwaves, Andersen said, and farming also needed to adapt to more droughts.
Increasing and restoring green areas was important, she said, with green corridors in Medellín, in Colombia, cutting temperatures by 2C, for example, and mangroves providing coastal storm protection. Early warning systems to alert people to extreme weather was also vital, with the UN aiming to reach everyone on Earth by 2028.
The report found that more than 80% of countries have at least one national adaptation plan, but Anderson said the key was to mobilise the investment to fund these plans. Reforms at the World Bank and other international finance institutions to provide more climate funding was important, the report said, as well as increased spending by national governments and business.
The report also said the cost of loss and damage was likely to grow significantly, meaning innovative sources of finance, such as levies on aviation and shipping and debt relief, needed to be explored. “Some of them are very controversial in certain circles, but the reality is that the cost is going up and up and therefore we need to look at all opportunities,” Andersen said.
The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the climate emergency. The former UK prime minister Gordon Brown recently called for a $25bn-a-year global windfall tax on soaring oil and gas profits, paid by the richest petrostates such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Norway. “[They] can easily afford to pay,” he said. “The failure to recycle a fraction of these gains to the world’s poorest countries is one of the great scandals of our times.”
Original source: https://www.theguardian.com