Even if the world community succeeds in reducing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero over the next 15 years at most, numerous communities and economies are already facing challenges that are in part impossible to overcome.
The poorest and most vulnerable will be the hardest hit, not just because climate-sensitive regions are already grappling with changing patterns of rainy seasons and dry spells, ever more extreme weather events and a slow but inexorable rise in sea level.
Even five years on from the adoption of the Paris climate agreement, the affected regions and people are still awaiting urgently needed financial and material resources. And regrettably, neither was there any follow-up by way of substantial financial commitments after the usual calls – most recently heard at the Dutch Adaptation Summit early in the year – for joint action in the face of the climate crisis. The high-sounding rhetoric would then have been matched by concrete action.
According to the OECD, the public climate finance provided so far by industrialised countries for adaptation in developing countries was USD 13 billion in 2018, of which two-thirds, it is worth noting, comprise repayable loans. Under the Paris climate agreement, however, the sum should be four times as much, or half the USD 100 billion per year pledged as of 2020. Besides, the OECD confirms a criticism voiced for years by Alliance Sud (see Study and key figures, March 2020): the poorest countries received just a fraction of the amount – according to the latest OECD numbers for 2018, just 14 per cent went to least developed countries, and 2 per cent to Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
This contrasts with rapidly rising climate costs. In the annual Adaptation Gap Report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates the current annual investment requirement for climate protection and resilience in developing countries at USD 70 billion. By 2030, annual adaptation costs in the global South will rise to USD 140-300 billion, and could be as much as USD 500 billion by 2050.
Rather than as “costs”, the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) characterises climate change adaptation as investments with a return on investment for the economy. In a report published in September 2019, it estimates that the 1.8 trillion needed for resilient infrastructure or environmental adaptation measures such as the rehabilitation of dying coral reefs or the protection of mangrove forests will yield a net benefit for the regions concerned of USD 7.1 trillion. Improved protection of coastal areas not only saves human lives and buildings, but also improves drinking water quality and secures sea-based income sources. Some adaptation measures such as reforestation have a far greater benefit, e.g. helping to protect species, and even potentially contributing directly to achieving the emission reduction targets of the countries concerned.