Adaptation plans for climate change 'fall far short', UNEP says

Venice under water, November, 2019. (Keystone)

Despite countries' efforts to prepare against the effects of climate change, funding is not growing fast enough, a report by the UN Environment Programme has found.

“Almost three quarters of nations have some adaptation plans in place, but financing and implementation fall far short of what is needed,” UNEP's annual Adaptation Gap Report states, calling for private and public funding to be “stepped up urgently”.

The document released on Thursday analyses what countries are doing to protect themselves from events such as floods, droughts and sea-level rise. Adopting measures including early warning systems and investments in a green transition is one of the requirements of the Paris accord.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest – even if we meet the Paris agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.”

The warning comes as 2020 marked one of the three warmest years on record, with an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season, wildfires that destroyed large parts of Australia and Siberia, the US West coast and South America, according to a WMO report released on Thursday.

Read also: ‘We’ve run out of superlatives’: WMO warns on unprecedented hurricane season

UNEP found that of the 1700 adaptation initiatives surveyed, only three per cent truly reduced climate risks for the communities where the projects were implemented.

Developing countries, which are most vulnerable to climate impact, are especially off the mark, the report says. Although financing is on the rise, adaptation costs are increasing at a faster rate and are estimated at $70bn per year. This is expected to rocket to $140-300bn within the next decade and to $180-500bn in 2050.

Tools that could help incentivise more financing include sustainability investment criteria, climate-related disclosure principles and mainstreaming of climate-related risks into investment decisions.

The report also warns that with the economic fallout from the pandemic, climate adaptation planning has dropped to the bottom of the priority list, although it is still too early to know the exact impact that it will have on countries’ ability to plan for the climate emergency.

Nature-based solutions, such as preserving and restoring ecosystems, is one of the most cost-effective ways to prepare for climate impact, but very few plans include these in a tangible manner, it says. Support from climate and management funds for these types of initiatives still has a long way to go, the report notes.

Andersen said:

“As the UN Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year. This will allow a huge step up in adaptation – in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”