COP26 Glasgow: 'Not enough is done to adapt to inevitable climate change'

COP26 Glasgow: 'Not enough is done to adapt to inevitable climate change'
Credit: Unsplash/Chris Leboutillier

Climate change adaptation, financing and implementation are still far behind where they need to be, according to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) adaptation gap report which was presented last week at the still on-going climate change conference in Glasgow.

In the earlier emissions gap report, which was presented ahead of the conference, UNEP showed that that the updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century.

Halfway in the conference, EU negotiators are concerned that the conference is not on track to limit global warming and climate activists are demonstrating and far from satisfied. UNEP admits that the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement is “aspirational” and that it likely will be missed while some climate impacts are already irreversible, highlighting the urgent need to adapt.

The new report by UNEP, with the telling name “The Gathering Storm”, provides an update on the global status and progress of the adaptation process across three elements: planning, financing, and implementation. The report looks also into the COVID-19 implications on adaptation progress.

“As the world looks to step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions – efforts that are still not anywhere strong enough – it must also dramatically up its game to adapt to climate change,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP at a press briefing in Glasgow (4 November).

“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. 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 message is still not taken on board by all,” she added without mentioning any names and parties of the conference.

Even if the world limits warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, many climate risks remain. While strong mitigation is the best way to lower impacts and long-term costs, raising ambition in adaptation, in particular for financing and implementation, is critical to keep existing gaps from widening.

The report finds that the costs of adaptation are likely in the higher end of an estimated USD 140-300 billion per year by 2030 and USD 280-500 billion per year by 2050 for developing countries only. Overall, estimated adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times greater than current public adaptation finance flows, and the gap is widening.

According to UNEP, COVID-19 was a missed opportunity to invest in adaptation measures. Fewer than one-third of 66 countries studied in the report had explicitly funded COVID-19 measures to address climate risks as of June 2021.

However, some progress has been made. While early evidence suggests that National Adaptation Plan development processes have been disrupted by COVID-19, progress is being made on national adaptation planning agendas. A majority of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument, such as a plan, strategy, policy or law.

Meanwhile, implementation of adaptation actions continues to grow slowly. OECD data shows that the top ten donors funded more than 2,600 projects with a principal focus on adaptation between 2010 and 2019. Projects are also getting bigger, with more projects attracting funding over USD 10 million.

But much action is needed in financing and implementation of adaptation measures. More and stronger implementation of adaptation actions is needed to avoid falling behind, particularly in developing countries. The report also found that governments should use the fiscal recovery from the pandemic to prioritize interventions that achieve both economic growth and climate change resilience.

To what extent do the national recovery and resilience plans adopted by the EU member states and funded by the €7750 billion Next Generation EU recovery instrument include climate change adaptation measures?

The European Commission might not yet have analysed the adaptation gap report and declined to comment on the report. Its spokespersons referred The Brussels Time to the Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation which establishes a climate target of 37% at the level of the individual national recovery and resilience plans.

Each measure proposed in a national recovery and resilience plan has also to respect the “do no significant harm” principle, according to the Commission.

Specifically, there are six environmental objectives to which no significant harm should be done: (i) climate change mitigation, (ii) climate change adaptation, (iii) water and marine resources, (iv) the circular economy, (v) pollution prevention and control, and (vi) biodiversity and ecosystems. This obligation applies to all reforms and investments, and is not limited to green measures.

The Commission has issued technical guidance on how the principle should be applied with regard to mitigation and adaptation.

“An activity is considered to do significant harm to climate change mitigation if it leads to significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An activity is considered to do significant harm to climate change adaptation if it leads to an increased adverse impact of the current climate and the expected future climate, on the activity itself or on people, nature or assets.

In addition, the Commission supports member states’ proposals for investment and reform initiatives that would have an added value for the EU as a whole. These are aimed at, for example, accelerating the development and use of renewables.

“Adaptation to climate change has been more and more on the forefront of EU climate policy,” a Commission spokesperson underlined.

“We have just concluded the hottest decade during which the title for the hottest year was beaten eight times. Climate change is here and we need to adapt to its unpreventable consequences, while continuing all our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst consequences of uncontrolled climate change.”

“Internationally, it is clear that more financing needs to flow into adaptation, especially to protect the most vulnerable,” he added. “In 2020 close to 50% of the funding the EU provided for developing countries was dedicated to either climate adaptation or cross-cutting action (involving both climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives).

The Commission adopted a new EU climate change adaptation strategy in February this year to make adaptation faster, smarter and more systematic, to make Europe climate resilient. Ahead of COP26, the European Council approved the climate finance which was committed by the EU and its member states to support developing countries in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Arjuna Dibley, a lead author of the Adaptation Gap Report 2021, answers some of the most commonly asked questions on what humans can do to adapt to climate change in this video.


At the COP26 press conference yesterday (8 November), Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in charge of EU’s climate action, said that there is need for action on finance and adaptation. “

“Where do I see the need for progress? Obviously on climate finance, but that's moving forward. I also believe we need to give a heightened importance to adaptation. We're almost learning on a daily basis that adaptation has become extremely important.” As regards mitigation, he still seems cautiously optimistic.

“There might be some gaps here and there, but we’re still on track to stay well below two degrees and we are still on track to have a shot at the 1.5.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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