UN urges countries to finance and implement plans to adapt to climate impact

Climate change adaptation strategies refer to efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, on human communities. PHOTO: AFP

GLASGOW - With some impacts of climate change now irreversible, the United Nations is urging countries to design their cities and economies in ways that will boost their resilience to changing weather patterns caused by global heating.

A new report published on Thursday (Nov 4) by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that while there is an increasing number of plans for climate change adaptation, financing and implementation of initiatives are still lagging.

It is estimated that adaptation costs in developing countries are five to 10 times greater than public funds currently available for programmes.

The UNEP said in its annual adaptation gap report, released during the COP26 climate summit, that the gap is widening.

If action is not taken to reduce the amount of planet-warming emissions, climate impacts could get worse.

It added that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted adaptation planning and disaster risk finances, with national adaptation plans hampered by health restrictions, as well as by the political and budgetary focus on immediate pandemic responses.

"Budgets for emergency disaster risk management have been depleted, raising concerns about a reduction in adaptive capacity for subsequent health emergencies and climate shocks," said the UNEP in its report.

Climate change adaptation strategies refer to efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, on human communities.

They include coastal protection measures that can prevent flooding from sea level rise, indoor farms so crops are less affected by changing weather patterns, or drainage systems that can deal with intense deluges brought about by more erratic rainfall patterns.

UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said at the launch of the report that the world must "dramatically" up its game to adapt to climate change, even as efforts are ongoing to cut emissions.

She added: "Even if we were to turn off the tap on greenhouse gas emissions today, the impacts of climate change would be with us for many decades to come."

Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are releasing planet-warming gases into the atmosphere. As the atmospheric blanket thickens, more heat is trapped on earth, and this throws earth systems out of whack.

The result: Land ice melts, fuelling the oceans and causing sea levels to rise. Rainfall patterns also change, and extreme events such as wildfires and tropical cyclones increase in intensity.

In August, the UN's climate science body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - said in a report that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying with some impacts, such as sea level rise, now irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.

All of these impacts are already being felt at just 1.1 deg C of warming above pre-industrial times.

The aim of the Paris Agreement, which nations adopted in 2015, is to keep warming under 2 deg C - preferably 1.5 deg C - above pre-industrial levels.

Countries are meeting in Glasgow to agree on a set of rules that will help them translate the aims of the Paris Agreement into action.

A key issue on the table is that of climate finance, with poorer nations wanting wealthier ones to make good on a pledge they made over a decade ago to channel US$100 billion (S$135 billion) in annual climate finance by 2020 to green the economies of the poorer countries and help them adapt to climate impacts.

But in 2019, climate finance flowing to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation planning and implementation reached only US$ 79.6 billion.

Said Ms Andersen: "We need a step change in adaptation ambition for funding and implementation to significantly reduce damages and losses from climate change. And we need it now."

The UNEP report found that costs of adaptation for developing countries could be much higher - likely at the higher end of an estimated US$140 billion to US$300 billion per year by 2030, and US$280 billion to US$500 billion per year by 2050.

Dr Arjuna Dibley, a researcher at the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme and a co-author of the report, told The Straits Times: "Much more finance is needed to ensure that countries, particularly those which are the most vulnerable, are prepared.

"The 2009 goal for $100 billion of finance per annum from developed to developing countries has not yet been met."

While Covid-19 complicates this goal, there could be a silver lining, said Dr Dibley, who is also a director at climate change investment and advisory firm Pollination.

"During the pandemic, we saw what is possible financially when governments focus their attention and resources on solving a complex global problem. It would be helpful if countries take that same mindset to responding to the climate crisis," he said.

Dr Dibley added that the UNEP report focuses on developing countries because they have historically contributed the least to climate change but, in many cases, are the most severely impacted by it.

"Developing country governments and communities may also have the fewest resources to invest in resilience," he said.

"The extent to which developing countries adapt to climate change will also have direct spillover impacts for developed countries."

He cited how forest fires in Indonesia could affect Singapore's air quality, adding: "As a major importer of food, Singapore's food security is tied to that of some of its neighbours.

"In this context, working with your neighbours on climate change adaptation can be both strategically and morally the right thing to do."

Dr Dibley said adaption planning also goes beyond climate financing, and includes the ability to plan effectively for disasters and natural hazards and taking steps to ensure that economic systems are well equipped to respond to climate change.

He said countries like Singapore are important in this respect.

"Singapore can support its partners in the region with their adaptation efforts, sharing its technical expertise," he added.

Other than being home to Asia's leading universities, the Republic is also taking steps to ensure that climate change risks are accounted for in its financial system, including in state-owned assets.

Said Dr Dibley: "These and other technical skills could also be shared with your neighbours in South-east Asia, to ensure that climate change is accounted for in financial decision-making."

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