Despite countries taking steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions — steps researchers say aren’t nearly strong enough to address the climate crisis — the gap is widening between climate impacts and the world’s effort to adapt to them, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme.
The annual “adaptation gap” report — which published Thursday amid the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow — found that the estimated costs to adapt to the worst effects of warming temperatures such as droughts, floods and rising seas in low-income countries are five to 10 times higher than how much money is currently flowing into those regions.
In addition to promising to limit warming, governments from wealthy nations in the 2015 Paris Accord reaffirmed their commitment to contribute $100 billion a year to poorer nations to move away from fossil fuel and adapt to climate change-fueled disasters. This is because developing nations, particularly those in the Global South, are most likely to endure the worst effects of the climate crisis, despite the small amount they contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, said this is why climate finance — funding for low-income countries to fight the climate crisis — is vital.
“The Paris Accord says adaptation and mitigation funding needs to be in a degree of balance,” Andersen told CNN. “Those in poorer countries are going to suffer the very most, so ensuring that there’s a degree of equity and a degree of global solidarity for adaptation finance is critical.”
But the report found that $100 billion a year — a pledge which wealthy nations have so far been unable to achieve — isn’t even enough to match the demand. Adaptation costs for low-income countries will hit $140 to 300 billion each year by 2030 and $280 to 500 billion per year by 2050, UNEP reports.
In 2019, only $79 billion of climate financing flowed into developing nations, according to the latest analysis.
As the climate crisis intensifies, adaptation measures are becoming more critical. Global scientists have said the world should try to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a critical threshold to avoid the worst impacts. But Thursday’s report suggests this threshold will be breached sooner than previously imagined, and some climate impacts are already irreversible. Wildfires, droughts, record heat waves and deadly floods terrorized parts of the Northern Hemisphere this summer.
“While strong mitigation is the way to minimize impacts and long-term costs, increased ambition in terms of adaptation, particularly for finance and implementation, is critical to prevent existing gaps widening,” the report’s authors wrote.
Roughly 79% of all countries have adopted at least one adaptation plan, policy or strategy to stem the impact, a 7% increase since 2020. Meanwhile, 9% of countries that don’t currently have a plan or policy in place are in the process of developing one.
But the report says implementation of these adaptation measures is stalling. A separate UNEP report found that 15 major economies will continue to produce roughly 110% more coal, oil, and gas in 2030 than what’s necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, which will worsen climate change-fueled extreme weather events and make adaptation all the more critical.
At a forum on vulnerable countries at COP26 this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on wealthy nations, banks and shareholders to “allocate half their climate finance to adaptation” and “offer debt relief” for low-income nations.
“Vulnerable countries must have faster and easier access to finance,” Guterres said. “I urge the developed world to accelerate delivery on the $100 billion dollars to rebuild trust. Vulnerable countries need it for adaptation and for mitigation. [They] are not the cause of climate disruption.”
One way to tackle this, according to the report’s authors, is to use Covid-19 recovery stimulus packages as an opportunity to deliver green and resilient adaptation measures to developing countries. The twin crises of climate change and the pandemic have stretched economic and disaster response thin, but authors say it proves the world can adapt to the worst impacts of warming temperatures.
The adaptation gap report comes at a critical time as world leaders gather at COP26 to discuss the probability of keeping the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive, as well as also ensuring that wealthy, fossil fuel-generating nations hold on to their promise of transferring $100 billion a year to low-income countries, particularly in the Global South.
Andersen said one thing is clear: “The more we delay climate action, the more adaptation will become important, especially for the most poor, who are going to be hit the hardest.”
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