Climate adaptation gap grows wider

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By Tim Radford

LONDON, 16 May, 2016 – The cost of coping with climate change in the developing world has just gone up. According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it may have increased five-fold,

By 2050, the cost of adapting to the impact of rising sea levels, greater extremes of heat, changing seasonal growth patterns, drought and potentially more intense, or more frequent, floods and storms is set at between $280bn and $500bn a year.

The last such study, by the World Bank in 2010, estimated the annual costs between 2010 and 2050 as being from $70bn to $100bn a year. But the new report, written by authors from 15 institutions and reviewed by 31 experts, takes a closer look, building on the earlier estimates by examining national and sector studies.

Innovative financing

And that figure, the report says, is the “adaptation finance gap” − that is, the difference between the financial costs of climate change and the money actually available to meet those costs.

“It is vital that governments understand the costs involved in adapting to climate change,” says Ibrahim Thiaw, deputy executive director of UNEP. “This report serves as a powerful reminder that climate change will continue to have serious economic costs.

“The adaptation finance gap is large, and likely to grow substantially over the coming decades, unless significant progress is made to secure new, additional and innovative financing for adaptation.”

On an almost daily basis, researchers emphasise this urgency of action to help the poorest and most vulnerable. On the heels of the UNEP report, a separate study warns that the kind of heatwave normally considered “unusual” in tropical Africa could, by 2040, happen every year, with terrible consequences for crop harvests and for human mortality.

Scientists report in Environmental Research Letters that by 2075 the so-called “unusual” heatwaves could occur up to four times a year, as global average temperatures rise.

Developing nations, by definition, have contributed least to the problem of climate change, but are overall likely to suffer most from the changes that lie ahead.

Drastic reduction

This has been implicitly and explicitly recognised by global discussions on climate change. At the UN climate change conference in Paris last December, 195 nations formally agreed to take steps to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C above the pre-industrial average. This can only be achieved by drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

And to help the developing states, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has called on the richest nations to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help the poorest nations adapt.

Even if the world achieves this target, the costs of adaptation for the less developed nations are rising swiftly. And the warmer the world gets, the greater the cost and the greater the potential hazards.

But the latest report notes: “There is no agreement as to the type of funding that shall be mobilised to meet this goal. This hampers efforts to monitor progress toward meeting the goal.” – Climate News Network

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