The Adaptation Imperative

NAIROBI – In the run-up to the recent United Nations meeting on climate change in Lima, Peru, much of the world’s attention focused on how strongly countries would commit to a framework for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. Governments’ commitment to such a framework, after all, is vital to ensure that the agreement to be signed in Paris in December will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The good news is that the Lima “Call for Climate Action” made sufficient progress to enable preparations for a comprehensive climate deal in Paris. But it also left many questions unresolved – a shortcoming that was reflected in discussions on adaptation. Though the new emphasis on this important topic is welcome, how to deliver the funding, technology, and knowledge that countries, communities, and ecosystems need to adjust to climate change requires further articulation.

Even if we limit the rise in global temperatures, climate change is here to stay. Communities are already facing more extreme and frequent droughts, floods, and other weather events. These consequences will only intensify.

Yet the UN Environment Programme’s first adaptation report, released in Lima, showed that the world remains wholly unprepared to cover the costs of adaptation. And those costs will be far higher than was previously thought. According to the report, even if the temperature target is met, the cost of adaptation will reach 2-3 times the previously anticipated $70-100 billion per year by 2050 (an increase of as much as fivefold is possible, though less likely).