Communities Cope With a New Climate Reality, Naturally

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 21, 2021 ( News) – A new climate reality is here, now. The year 2020 was one of the three warmest on record, and rivalled 2016 for the top spot, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) concludes after consolidating five international datasets. A naturally occurring climate phenomenon, La Niña, cooled things off only at the very end of the year.

All five datasets surveyed by WMO agree that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, in a persistent long-term climate change trend. The warmest six years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the hottest three.

As temperatures rise and climate change impacts intensify, nations must urgently step up action to adapt to the new climate reality or face serious costs, damages and losses, according to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, The “UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020”   issued last week from the agency’s headquarters in Nairobi.

Adaptation – reducing countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts – is a key pillar of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. While the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hit the ability of countries to adapt to climate change, investing in adaptation is a sound economic decision, UNEP reports.

The Paris Agreement, which took effect in 2016, requires its 194 signatory governments to implement adaptation measures through national plans, climate information systems, early warning, protective measures and investments in a green future.

Achieving the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement could limit losses in annual growth to up to 1.6 percent, compared to 2.2 percent for the 3°C trajectory, the UNEP

The United States is rejoining the Paris Agreement. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden signed an executive order to that effect on his first day in office, January 20. The world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States, will now look to a global leadership position on climate under the Biden Administration.

Solutions Are ‘Nature Based’

The “UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020” finds that while nations have advanced in planning, huge gaps remain in finance for developing countries and bringing adaptation projects to the stage where they bring real protection against climate impacts such as droughts, floods and sea-level rise.

Public and private finance for adaptation must be stepped up urgently, along with faster implementation, the UNEP report urges.

Nature-based solutions – locally appropriate actions that address social challenges, such as climate change, and provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring natural or modified ecosystems – must become a priority.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest – even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.”

“As the UN Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year,” Andersen urged. “This will allow a huge step up in adaptation – in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”

The UNEP report places a special focus on nature-based solutions as low-cost options that reduce climate risks, restore and protect biodiversity and bring benefits for communities and economies.

The majority of the solutions now in place focus on agriculture and water, with drought, rainfall variability, flooding and coastal impacts.

When coffee farmer, Hector Velasquez was a child, rainfall in his hometown San Salvador was a continuous but light drizzle spread across eight months. But recently climate change has made extreme storms more common in El Salvador. Floods and landslides are washing away topsoil, and with it the fertility of the coffee plantations that are vital for the country’s economy.

But, a movement is under way to change that. City officials and coffee farmers, with support from UNEP and the Global Environment Facility, have launched a project to restore 1,150 hectares of forests and coffee plantations. Known as CityAdapt, the project plants trees and other vegetation to be used as sponges, drawing enormous quantities of water into the earth, preventing erosion, limiting floods and recharging groundwater supplies for times of drought.

CityAdapt has already helped plant over 3,500 fruit trees in El Salvador, and by 2022, and the organizers say these fruit trees will reduce risk of flooding for 115,000 people.

Adaptation Planning Grows, Funding Still Needed.

The most encouraging finding of the UNEP report is that 72 percent of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument. Most developing countries are preparing National Adaptation Plans. However, the finance needed to implement these plans is not growing fast enough.

The pace of adaptation financing is rising, but it continues to be outpaced by rapidly increasing adaptation costs.

Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at US$70 billion. This figure is expected to reach US$140-300 billion in 2030 and US$280-500 billion in 2050.

And there are more encouraging developments. The Green Climate Fund has allocated 40 percent of its total portfolio to adaptation and is increasingly crowding-in private sector investment.

There is increasing momentum to ensure a sustainable financial system. New tools such as sustainability investment criteria, climate-related disclosure principles and mainstreaming of climate risks into investment decisions can stimulate investments in climate resilience, the report advises.

Implementation of adaptation actions is also growing. Since 2006, close to 400 adaptation projects financed by multilateral funds serving the Paris Agreement have taken place in developing countries.

While earlier climate adaptation projects rarely exceeded US$10 million, 21 new projects since 2017 reached a value of over US$25 million. Yet, of over 1,700 adaptation initiatives surveyed, only three percent had reported real reductions to climate risks posed to the communities where the projects were being implemented.

A UNEP analysis of four major climate and development funds – the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the International Climate Initiative – suggest that support for green initiatives with some element of nature-based solutions has risen over the last two decades.

Cumulative investment for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects under the four funds stood at US$94 billion. Yet, only US$12 billion was spent on nature-based solutions – a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation finance

“All nations must pursue the efforts outlined in UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020, which called for a green pandemic recovery and updated Nationally Determined Contributions that include new net-zero commitments,” the UN agency urged. “However, the world must also plan for, finance and implement climate change adaptation to support those nations least responsible for climate change but most at risk.”

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

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