Step up adaptation to climate change now or risk ‘enormous toll’

Scientists warn of risks of ignoring issue as COVID measures cuts funding

A changing climate could depress growth in global food production by up to 30 per cent by 2050.

Reuters – More than 3,000 scientists have called for a far bigger global push to protect people and nature from the effects of a heating planet, even as researchers estimated funding to adapt to climate change has dropped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the scientists — including five Nobel laureates — warned that a failure to respond to rising climate risks, as governments try to revive their economies from coronavirus woes, would have severe consequences, especially for the poorest.

“Unless we step up and adapt now, the results will be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricultural losses and soaring levels of migration with an enormous toll on human life,” the scientists from nearly 120 countries wrote ahead of a global summit on adaptation.

A changing climate, including more severe floods and droughts, could depress growth in global food production by up to 30 per cent by 2050, while rising seas and greater storm surges could destroy urban economies and force hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers from their homes, they noted.

To avoid that, major new efforts are needed to conserve nature — including forests, wetlands and coral reefs — as is a planning revolution to make cities, transport, energy and other infrastructure safer from climate shocks, they said.

Better education, especially for girls, and redeployment of the world’s existing financial resources would enable adaptation on the massive scale required, they added.

“We must remember there is no vaccination for our changing climate,” said former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who chairs the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), which is organizing the Jan. 25-26 summit with the Dutch government.

“Building resilience to climate impacts is not a nice-to-have… it is a must if we are to live in a sustainable and secure world,” Ban told journalists.

Alongside the COVID-19 crisis, last year saw surging heat, intensifying drought and rampant wildfires, he noted, adding that the pandemic might have been avoided if the world had acted earlier to protect nature and prevent climate change.

While 2021 will be defined by efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the “centuries ahead” will be defined by how green that recovery is, Ban said.

But a GCA report assessing global progress on adaptation, issued January 22, cited research showing government pandemic stimulus measures that support fossil fuels and high-carbon activities outnumbered green initiatives by four to one.

It also flagged a new estimate from the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) that finance for adaptation is likely to have fallen — though by less than 10 per cent — in 2020, as the pandemic hit budgets hard.

A UN report said last week that funding was already falling far short of needs before the COVID-19 crisis, with an annual average of $30 billion available for adaptation in 2017-18.

Estimates of the costs of adapting to climate change vary widely, but CPI and the GCA said adaptation finance needed to increase by between five- and ten-fold from its current levels.

Only about 5 per cent of all climate finance goes to adapting to more extreme weather and rising seas. The UN secretary general and others have called for that share to be raised to half, especially in financial support for poorer nations.

Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Rotterdam-based GCA, described climate change adaptation as a “casualty” of the pandemic.

“Adaptation needs to accelerate but this acceleration is not happening. In fact, it’s even slowing down,” he said.

Last year, development banks —major sources of climate finance —prioritized coronavirus rescue packages, the GCA report noted.

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