16 November 2022

How do we get from ambition to action on climate adaptation?


By Cervest

How do we get from ambition to action on climate adaptation?

Gone are the days when climate adaptation was an afterthought on COP agendas. As we get closer to the 2030 deadline for halving emissions, and doubt is cast on our ability to deliver on a Paris-aligned world, COP negotiators are more willing to talk about adaptation.

Climate disasters in 2022 also pushed climate adaptation to the top of COP27 priorities and bolstered long standing demands from developing countries for more financial support from developed countries. The need is evident, but what does it really mean to prioritize climate adaptation in climate action plans?

What is climate adaptation and why is it important?

Climate action is organized into two critical strands - adaptation and mitigation. Mitigation measures are taken to ensure climate stability, through decarbonization and Net Zero targets. The goal of mitigation is to prevent average global temperatures from exceeding 1.5C by 2100.

Adaptation is the process of adjusting to the impacts of climate change so that people and assets are more resilient. The interaction between climate change and human activity makes us vulnerable in many different ways, both through acute direct impacts, such as the loss of lives and homes in a wildfire, or through chronic direct impacts from long-term climate change, such as sea-level rise in populated coastal areas. People and assets are also indirectly impacted through supply chains and manufacturing disruptions or food insecurity.

The longer the world stalls on delivering decarbonization goals, the bigger the need for climate adaptation will grow.

Until recently, climate adaptation has struggled to garner the broad support that climate mitigation has seen. The longer the world stalls on delivering decarbonization goals, the bigger the need for climate adaptation will grow. Already, annual adaptation needs are estimated to be USD160-340 billion by 2030.

Small island states have been advocating for more adaptation support for decades, but now climate-related events are affecting communities on every continent. There is a sense now that a focus on climate mitigation goals at previous COPs has come at the expense of efforts to adapt to climate change. Whether this is due to a perception that climate adaptation is an admittance of defeat or to a lack of understanding of what climate adaptation really means, climate priorities are shifting and expanding.

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Climate impacts are already here

The driving force behind climate adaptation featuring so prominently at COP27 is the mounting, undeniable evidence that the impacts of climate change are already here and accelerating. From floods in Pakistan and Nigeria to heat waves in Europe and wildfires in the U.S, extreme events during 2022 have significantly raised the urgency of climate adaptation. Although countries have reaffirmed commitments to keeping global warming at or below 1.5˚C, without more ambitious action we will not reach the target set by the Paris Agreement.

As part of the Paris Agreement, parties need to establish, update and submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that detail their targets for reducing national emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change and how they will reach them. One of the major outcomes of COP26 was an agreement to bring NDC revisions forward to 2022 rather than the previously agreed 5-year timeline. As of the opening of COP27, 151 Parties have submitted new or updated NDCs.

However, many of the actions outlined in these NDCs are dependent on the USD100 billion finance commitment - which developed nations have fallen far short of delivering. If countries are unable to deliver on their NDCs, we will remain on track to reach 2.5˚C warming by the end of the century. Regardless of Net Zero targets, existing emissions mean that physical risks are already locked into the Earth’s systems and unavoidable in the near term. So, as we continue to fall behind on our carbon emission commitments, adaptation becomes even more essential.

We are behind on adaptation implementation

Following the 2022 UNEP Adaptation Gap Report released last week, Sec. Gen. António Guterres stated that ‘the report makes it clear that the world is failing to protect people from the here-and-now impacts of the climate crisis. Those on the front lines of the climate crisis are at the back of the line for support.’

Many voices across policy, science, industry, and civil society recognize adaptation as an essential action for climate resilience and groups such as UNEP, IPCC, and C40 have all focused strongly on integrating adaptation into guidance, programmes, reporting and solutions. What is missing is clarity on how to get there.

Developing countries tend to be located in parts of the world with the greatest exposure to climate risks and have long experienced its greatest impacts. But the need for climate adaptation in developing countries is exacerbated because these countries are not as resilient to the impacts of climate change as wealthier countries. Historical data shows that earlier prediction, resilient infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and response systems go a long way in reducing loss and damage in natural disasters. This is being addressed in part by an ambitious UN / WHO program to install early warning systems across the globe by 2027. Similarly, weak health infrastructure is not only more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but can also weaken a community’s ability to respond efficiently to a crisis.

Bridging the adaptation gap

While many climate risks are now unavoidable irrespective of limiting warming to 1.5˚C , the impacts of these risks can still be moderated with adaptation. The consequences of climate hazards are not just determined by how severe or intense it is, but also by the vulnerabilities of the built environment, essential services, infrastructure and communities in its path.

Many organizations and communities have taken steps to resource decarbonization, and have financing for their Net Zero and sustainability strategies in place. However, what is not clear within these plans is how these Net Zero and sustainability actions will support business in reducing and mitigating the physical impacts of climate change. The impacts of climate change they experience will depend on how well adapted their physical assets are, and this is often overlooked. Organizations and communities can’t afford to wait for policy mechanisms to turn commitments into implementation, they need to understand what adaptation actions they can get in place now.

When it comes to adaptation, harnessing local knowledge is important. Sharing local knowledge on physical risk within a community or across sectors creates greater visibility on climate risk. For example, research has demonstrated that smaller, more local community banks have a better understanding of local flooding risks than larger banks. This understanding of local flood risks means they can assess risk more accurately and create more resilient investment strategies.

Organizations and communities need to know how to allocate resources and capital to protect existing investments and assets from the impacts of climate change. Key infrastructure systems including sanitation, water, health, transport, communications and energy will be increasingly vulnerable if design standards do not account for changing climate conditions. Effective adaptation depends on having access to granular climate information and the capabilities to understand climate risk at an individual asset level.

How climate intelligence supports action on adaptation

Adaptation is key to reducing our vulnerability to climate change, and needs to happen not just as a long-term strategy, but as an immediate priority. At COP27 and beyond, collaborative action on climate adaptation is necessary for quick and effective implementation of adaptation strategies that improve the resilience of critical infrastructure and systems that businesses and societies depend on. To quickly scale adaptation implementation, climate risk information needs to be accessible, shareable and comparable across many different stakeholders in a way that is standardized, clear and fast.

Climate intelligence (CI) enables this collaborative adaptation by creating shared visibility on how climate change has, is and could affect physical assets; placing climate at the core of strategic, operational, and financial decisions. By providing a comprehensive view of climate risk, CI ensures that as many hazards, timescales, and types of risk are covered as possible. By providing a detailed asset-level understanding of specific climate risks, it brings evidence-based and science-backed information into every decision point of the adaptation process - whether financing, planning, or executing.

By enabling shared visibility on climate risks among key decision-makers within and across organizations, governments and international borders, climate intelligence creates a foundation for effective collaboration on climate adaptation. Shared, comparable and standardized data on physical risk means that we can integrate climate adaptation into sustainable development everywhere–because the resilience of critical infrastructure and systems is what prepares communities and economies for the impacts of a changing climate. Even as we work swiftly to keep 1.5˚C in sight, we must work even faster to prepare for the changes that are already here and ensure that we build a climate resilient future.

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