Sun, Jan 18, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Adaptation to climate change is imperative for all countries

By Achim Steiner

In the run-up to the recent UN meeting on climate change in Lima, much of the world’s attention focused on how strongly nations would commit to a framework for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. After all, governments’ commitment to such a framework is vital to ensure that the agreement to be signed in Paris in December keeps global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The good news is that the Lima “Call for Climate Action” made sufficient progress to enable preparations for a comprehensive climate deal in Paris. However, it also left many questions unresolved — a shortcoming that was reflected in discussions on adaptation. Though the new emphasis on this important topic is welcome, how to deliver the funding, technology and knowledge that nations, communities and ecosystems need to adjust to climate change requires further articulation.

Even if we limit the rise in global temperatures, climate change is here to stay. Communities are already facing more extreme and frequent droughts, floods and other weather events. These consequences will only intensify.

Yet the UN Environment Programme’s first adaptation report, released in Lima, showed that the world remains wholly unprepared to cover the costs of adaptation, and those costs are set to be far higher than was previously thought. According to the report, even if the temperature target is met, the cost of adaptation will reach two to three times the previously anticipated US$70 billion to US$100 billion per year by 2050 — an increase of as much as five-fold is possible, though less likely.

If global temperatures exceed the 2°C ceiling significantly, adaptation costs could reach double the worst-case figures, placing a crippling burden on the world economy. If world leaders needed another compelling reason to reach a deal in Paris that keeps global temperatures below the target, this is it.

The burden of adjustment is to be borne by everyone, but is likely to be heaviest for developing nations, least-developed nations and Small Island Developing States. Though international funding is available, costs are likely to fall largely to nations, with governments forced to divert scarce resources from development projects to adaptation initiatives.

To be sure, the world is making some progress toward addressing adaptation needs. Adaptation funding from public sources reached US$23 billion to US$26 billion in 2012-2013. According to a recent assessment by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, global financial flows for mitigation and adaptation measures amounted to US$340 billion to US$650 billion in 2011-2012.

Furthermore, pledges at the Lima conference by Australia, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Norway and Peru bring the Green Climate Fund to nearly US$10.2 billion, and the impact of climate change is increasingly, though still inadequately, being factored into national and local budgets.

However, much more financing is needed to prevent a funding gap after 2020. For example, the Green Climate Fund is supposed to reach US$100 billion per year — ten times higher than it is now — within the next five years.

Commitments on adaptation in the Paris agreement would go a long way toward closing this gap. The international auctioning of emissions allowances and allowances in domestic emissions-trading schemes, a carbon tax, revenues from international transport, a surcharge on electricity transmission and financial transaction taxes could generate as much as US$220 billion per year in additional revenues.

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