The climate crisis increasing its intensity and reach, with droughts, floods and heatwaves becoming regular occurrences in both hemispheres. This has triggered a global conversation on how to help people, ecosystems and economies to adapt to a new reality known as climate change adaptation.
As the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) new Adaptation Gap Report 2022 shows, however, the conversation is yet to turn into sufficient action. The report finds that efforts in adaptation planning, financing and implementation are not keeping pace with the growing risks.
We talked to Maarten Kappelle from UNEP’s Science Division to find out what the report tells us, what UNEP is doing to boost adaptation and what needs to happen for adaptation to become a reality in every country.
Adaptation is expected to be a focus at the upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP27) in Egypt. What is climate adaptation and why is it important?
Maarten Kappelle (MK): Adaptation essentially means the measures that we put in place to help countries, communities and sectors, such as agriculture and renewable energy, plan for – and thrive during – the impacts of climate change. So, for example, if we know a drought is coming through better forecasting, we can do things like put water harvesting in place, plant hardier crops and restore ecosystems, like forests.
There are many types of adaptation, but one of the key approaches is what we call ecosystem-based adaptation, essentially projects that use biodiversity and ecosystem services to protect people. One example is planting mangrove forests, which can absorb wave surges and serve as a natural barrier to floods.
What does the Adaptation Gap Report 2022 tell us about the status of adaptation?
MK: It is, unfortunately, not good news and a loud call to action. We are seeing massive climate impacts at 1.1°C of global warming and we are heading for much more – well over 2°C, unless we get serious about cutting emissions. Even if we do cut emissions, we still need to adapt, as it will take decades for temperatures to start dropping.
What we are seeing is an increase in planning at a national level, with over 80 per cent of the countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which the Paris Agreement falls, putting in place at least one national adaption planning instrument. The problem is that funding is falling desperately short. We are potentially going to need over US$300 billion per year by 2030 to meet the world’s adaptation needs. Today, though, the funding gap is huge: international adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below estimated needs. This means that we are not seeing enough implementation of projects.
What is UNEP doing to help boost adaptation?
MK: What we are doing – apart from putting out science such as this report to show where we are, where we need to be and how to get there – is proving that adaptation works through on the ground projects. UNEP has assisted over 75 projects on climate change adaptation in over 50 countries. Combined, these projects aim to benefit around 2.5 million people, restore 113,000 hectares of land, improve the climate adaptation knowledge of 60,000 people and 131 institutions, and build over 1,100 water harvesting structures and 82 weather stations. It is a major effort but a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the challenge. However we hope that our programmes around the world can help show the way for many others, through innovative and nature-based solutions.
What do we need to do to boost adaptation?
MK: Firstly, developed nations need to live up to their promises under the Glasgow Climate Pact, an agreement world leaders signed up to at the UN climate summit in the UK in 2021, to provide the funding needed to deliver a step change in adaptation. This should also include a consideration of loss and damage as many of the nations that are least responsible for climate change have already suffered greatly. We also need to see a rapid acceleration in scientific research, planning, implementation and deeper international cooperation.
What kind of on-the-ground work should countries be doing?
MK: What would help greatly is looking harder at projects that both build resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions because this delivers a double win for the same investment, along with co-benefits, such as jobs and improved livelihoods.