UN urges nations to scale up climate change adaptation to avoid major economic loss

Residents in boats inspect the floodwaters flowing from the Tittabawassee River into the lower part of downtown on May 20, 2020 in Midland, Michigan.

Gregory Shamus | Getty Images

Governments across the world must significantly scale up climate adaptation measures to avoid major economic damage from global warming, according to the fifth edition of the UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap report.

Nations must put half of all global climate financing towards adaptation in the next year in order to avoid the worst impact of climate change, according to the report published on Thursday. In 2020, the hottest year on record, on par with 2016, the world experienced record-breaking hurricanes and wildfires that continue to intensify as temperatures rise.

Such a commitment would include investing in nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change, such as practices like replanting trees on degraded land, sequestering more carbon in soil through agricultural practices and protecting forests through changing logging practices.

Nearly 75% of nations have adopted some form of climate adaption. But major gaps remain in financing for developing countries, which are most vulnerable to rising temperatures, as well as projects that have notably reduced climate risk, the report said.

The UN estimated that yearly climate adaption costs could reach between $140 billion and $300 billion by the end of the decade and between $280 billion and $500 billion by 2050, and concluded that global action is lagging far behind.

And while climate adaption projects are on the rise, the ongoing surge in global carbon emissions is putting those projects in jeopardy.

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Under the Paris Climate Agreement, the global pact forged five years ago among nearly 200 nations, governments are attempting to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels.

The world is still on track for temperatures to rise over 3 degrees Celsius, or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, this century.

The report said that achieving the 2 degrees Celsius target could limit economic loss in annual growth of up to 1.6%, compared with 2.2% for warming of 3 degrees Celsius and urged nations to update their targets under the Paris accord to include new net-zero carbon goals.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said in a statement. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest – even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals.”

The report also called for governments prioritize climate change in their Covid-19 economic recovery plans, including a shift away from fossil fuels and toward investing in green technologies and restoring ecosystems.

The world’s largest economies have committed more than $12 trillion in recovering economies, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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