Climate Change

Adaptation gap in developing countries widening even as extreme weather events worsen: UNEP

Countries in need received $21.3 billion but $215-387 billion needed every year

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 02 November 2023
A glacial lake in northern Sikkim has burst on the intervening night of October 3-4, 2023. Photo: Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang / Facebook

The adaptation gap — the difference between estimated financing needs and costs of adapting to climate change and finance flows in developing countries — is growing even as climate change continues to wreak havoc, according to the 2023 Adaptation Gap Report

Countries need financing of $215 billion to $387 billion every year to adapt to climate change. But they have been receiving $21.3 billion, the report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted. Developing countries will require $387 billion per year for the next decade to implement projects that will assist them in adapting to climate change, the report said. This figure makes up between 0.6 per cent and 1 per cent of all developing countries’ GDP combined.

For developing countries, the report estimated the central adaptation finance gap is currently in the range of $194 billion to $366 billion per year. 

Read more: Africa needs diversified green funds to plug climate adaptation finance gap of $41.3 billion: Report

The adaptation finance needs are 10-18 times as high as the current international public adaptation fund flows. This, according to the report, is at least 50 per cent higher than previously estimated.

“In 2023, climate change yet again became deadlier and more disruptive: Temperature records toppled, while storms, floods, heatwaves, and wildfires caused devastation,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said in a statement.

These intensifying impacts, she added, tell us the world must urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable populations. “Neither is happening,” she remarked.

It is estimated that adaptation costs will increase significantly by 2050 for most sectors, especially under high-warming scenarios. For example, the annual costs of adaptation for coastal protection will go up with sea-level rise by 2050. 

The world has already warmed up by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the preindustrial era. Current climate action is inadequate to meet the Paris Agreement goal, which aims to limit temperature rise to 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C above the preindustrial levels. 

The year 2023 saw record extreme weather events. The United States recorded its deadliest wildfire in more than a century. Massive flooding has killed more than 4,300 people and destroyed a quarter of the city of Derna. Extreme heat struck Europe, where several countries shattered temperature records.

Read more: Access to financial services can help rural India cope with climate risks: Study

The Amazon River recorded its lowest water levels in over a century. About 40 per cent of humankind is already living in highly climate-vulnerable areas. 

Yet, the report pointed out that progress on climate adaptation is slowing on all fronts. International public climate finance flows to developing countries decreased by 15 per cent to $21.3 billion in 2021 after having risen to $25.2 billion between 2018 and 2020. 

“These findings demonstrate the need for urgent and forceful climate action in all three domains: mitigation to minimise global warming, adaptation to reduce existing and future climate risks and loss and damage to best address unavoidable climate risks and limits to adaptation,” the report read.

Discussions around loss and damage and doubling of adaptation are not keeping pace with the needs, the report said.

At the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries agreed to set up a fund to respond to loss and damage. Governments are also yet to create a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to enhance adaptative capacity, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability to climate change. 

In November 2021, world leaders agreed to at least double their adaptation finance to developing countries from 2019 levels by 2025 at COP26.

Read more: UN calls for overhaul of global governance to tackle climate crisis

In 2009, developed countries agreed to mobilise $100 billion to fund mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries. This goal, however, has not been met and is predicted to be achieved by 2023. In 2020, mitigation finance provided was $48.6 billion, while adaptation bagged $28.6 billion, according to the European Network on Debt and Development.  

Adaptation projects in developing countries receive funding from public and private sources. Multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, are the largest providers of adaptation finance. However, their financial commitments decreased by 11 per cent in 2021 after seeing an increase from 2017 to 2020.

The second biggest providers are bilateral sources, for example, from a developed country to a developing country. Financing through these sources recorded a 51 per cent increase from 2018 to 2019 and 58 per cent between 2019 and 2020, followed by a 25 per cent decrease in 2021. 

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