The adap­ta­tion im­per­a­tive

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In the run-up to the re­cent United Na­tions meet­ing on cli­mate change in Lima, Peru, much of the world’s at­ten­tion fo­cused on how strongly coun­tries would com­mit to a frame­work for cut­ting green­house-gas emis­sions. Gov­ern­ments’ com­mit­ment to such a frame­work, after all, is vi­tal to en­sure that the agree­ment to be signed in Paris in De­cem­ber will keep global tem­per­a­tures from ris­ing more than 2 de­grees Cel­sius 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. But 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 coun­tries, 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 will be far higher than was pre­vi­ously thought. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, even if the tem­per­a­ture tar­get is met, the cost of adap­ta­tion will reach 2-3 times the pre­vi­ously an­tic­i­pated $70-100 bln per year by 2050 (an in­crease of as much as five­fold is pos­si­ble, though less likely).

If global tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed the two-de­gree ceil­ing sig­nif­i­cantly, adap­ta­tion costs could reach dou­ble the worstcase 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 will be borne by ev­ery­one. But it will be heav­i­est for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, least-de­vel­oped coun­tries, and Small Is­land De­vel­op­ing States. Though in­ter­na­tional fund­ing will be avail­able, costs will fall largely to coun­tries, 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 $23-26 bln 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 $340-650 bln in 20112012.

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

But much more fi­nanc­ing will be needed to pre­vent a fund­ing gap after 2020. The Green Cli­mate Fund, for ex­am­ple, is sup­posed to reach $100 bln per year – ten times higher than it is now – in 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 $220 bln per year in ad­di­tional rev­enues.

Of course, fund­ing is not the only com­po­nent of a suc­cess­ful adap­ta­tion strat­egy. As the adap­ta­tion re­port em­pha­sises, clos­ing gaps in tech­nol­ogy and knowl­edge is also cru­cial.

Many tech­nolo­gies that could help coun­tries adapt to the con­se­quences of cli­mate change al­ready ex­ist. For ex­am­ple, by plant­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally en­gi­neered crops that grow faster, farm­ers can har­vest them be­fore, say, cy­clone sea­son, which will be­come in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent as global tem­per­a­tures rise. But there re­main sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to adop­tion – bar­ri­ers that gov­ern­ments should dis­man­tle through a com­bi­na­tion of in­cen­tives, reg­u­la­tory re­form, and in­sti­tu­tional up­grad­ing.

Knowl­edge would of­fer sim­i­larly mon­u­men­tal ben­e­fits. Sci­ence mag­a­zine re­cently pub­lished re­search sug­gest­ing that univer­sal ed­u­ca­tion, by giv­ing pop­u­la­tions the ap­pro­pri­ate in­tel­lec­tual tools and skills they need, is the sin­gle most ef­fi­cient mech­a­nism for adapt­ing to cli­mate change and re­duc­ing fa­tal­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with ex­treme weather events.

In­ter­na­tional support on adap­ta­tion – in­cor­po­rat­ing fi­nanc­ing, tech­nol­ogy, and knowl­edge – could go a long way to­ward ad­vanc­ing coun­tries’ sus­tain­able-de­vel­op­ment as­pi­ra­tions. World lead­ers should recog­nise this – and es­tab­lish adap­ta­tion as an in­te­gral part of the global cli­mat­e­change agree­ment to be reached in Paris. Some ar­gue that the global econ­omy can­not af­ford adap­ta­tion. But, as the lat­est ev­i­dence shows, de­lay­ing ac­tion will mean higher costs later. If we truly want to build a sus­tain­able, pros­per­ous, and eq­ui­table fu­ture, we can­not af­ford to wait.

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