Nations Must Increase Funding to Cope With Climate Shocks, U.N. Warns
Wealthy nations need to give as much as ten times current levels of funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change or face widespread suffering and displacement as well as increased conflict, the United Nations said in a report issued Thursday.
If those developing nations can’t adjust to climate change, rich countries will also feel the consequences, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which prepared the report.
“The idea that you can have a wall around your state and somehow protect yourself, so that you can adapt while everybody else will sink, or burn, or die in droughts, is simply unrealistic,” Ms. Andersen said in an interview.
“People are not moving because they want to when they are climate refugees,” she added. “They are moving because they have to.”
The report, titled “Too Little, Too Slow,” comes as world leaders prepare to gather in Egypt next week for the annual United Nations climate summit. Organizers want to use the meeting to draw attention to the growing gap between current levels of aid for adaptation and what they say is required as climate shocks get worse.
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Climate adaptation refers to steps to better protect people against the consequences of climate change — for example, planting crops that are resistant to heat or drought, raising buildings to reduce damage from flooding, or moving communities away from coastlines and other vulnerable areas.
Much of the climate focus from world leaders has been on curbing global warming by encouraging countries to burn less coal, oil and gas to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Average global temperatures have already increased about 1.1 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, with the world set to warm 2 to 3 degrees by the end of the century.
But as the effects of climate change get worse, and efforts to reduce emissions move slowly, leaders and climate experts are turning some of their attention toward coping with those effects.
At last year’s United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, countries pledged to double the amount of funding available for adaptation to developing countries by 2025, compared with 2019 levels.
That goal may be a stretch. In 2020, worldwide adaptation funding reached $29 billion, 4 percent more than in 2019. (To put that figure in context, Florida lawmakers have sought $33 billion from Congress to rebuild after a single storm, Hurricane Ian.)
Even if nations succeed in doubling money for adaptation, it would still fall short of the need, according to the report.
It found that developing nations need approximately $200 billion a year, on average, during this decade. The cost of climate adaptation in developing nations will reach $160 billion to $340 billion by 2030, and rise to $315 billion to $565 billion by 2050.
Not only is the amount of adaptation funding insufficient, but it is often spent in ways that aren’t likely to be effective over time, the report said. Adaptation efforts tend to be narrow in scope, focus on short-term needs and fail to incorporate future risks, it said.
And without adequate planning, adaptation projects can make other climate problems worse, the report warned. For example, increased use of air conditioning requires more energy, and so can increase greenhouse gas emissions. A dam to control flood risk in one place may worsen water shortages downstream.
The report contains some reasons for optimism. Eighty-four percent of countries have come up with adaptations plans or strategies. And most of those plans “display consideration for gender and/or historically disadvantaged groups, such as Indigenous peoples,” the report said.
The risk is that countries will soon experience climate shocks to which they simply can’t adapt, the report said.
Large-scale retreat, arguably the most extreme and expensive form of adaptation, will soon become vital, according to the United Nations.
“In most low-lying coastal areas, planned relocation is a last-resort strategy,” the report said. “At higher levels of warming, in some areas, planned relocation will be the only effective strategy.”
For wealthy countries, failing to spend more money on climate adaptation around the world will only make the problem worse, Ms. Andersen said.
“The longer we kick this can down the road, the higher the price in human lives,” she said. “You can’t have fortress Europe. You can’t have fortress America. It doesn’t work.”