Climate Change

Climate Crisis: Adaptation limit reached in some parts of the world, shows IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report

The report calls for accelerated actions to bridge funding gap, challenges ‘myth of endless adaptation’

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Monday 20 March 2023
Inundated countryside in West Bengal, 2021. Photo:

Some parts of the world have already reached their adaptation limits, the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report warned.

Certain tropical, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, the report stated, have reached their hard limits of adaptation, where adaptive actions cannot avoid negative impacts.

Adaptation in some places has also reached its soft limits. This situation arises when technological and socioeconomic options for adaptive action are not immediately available, resulting in impacts and risks that are currently unavoidable.

Small-scale farmers and households along some low-lying coastal areas are experiencing soft limits to adaptation. This has resulted from financial, governance, institutional and policy constraints.

Even effective adaptation does not prevent all losses and damages, the authors of the report stated.

“We are challenging the myth of endless adaptation. At higher levels of global warming, the effectiveness of adaptation really goes down,” Aditi Mukherjee,director of climate change impact platform Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said at a Climate Trends media briefing. 

This, she added, links it back to mitigation. Even though our per capita emissions are less and we have low historical emission responsibility, the reality is that we are at the forefront of impacts, she noted.

“We simply cannot say because we have not emitted, we are not the ones to take action,” she said.

Adaptation gap

All sectors have shown improvements in implementing adaptive strategies, with varying effectiveness, according to the IPCC report. 

Still, adaptation gaps exist and will continue to grow if no action is taken; the lower-income group will suffer the most.

It is critical to accelerate the implementation of adaptation in this decade to close the adaptation gap, the IPCC authors highlighted.

The report listed six barriers: A lack of engagement from the private sector and citizens, insufficient mobilisation of finance, low climate literacy, lack of political commitment, limited research and slow and low uptake of adaptation science as well as low sense of urgency. 

These barriers exist despite having feasible, effective and low-cost options for adaptation, the report noted. The energy sector, for example, can adopt strategies such as reliable power systems, efficient water use for existing and new energy generation systems and diversifying energy generation.

Adaptation finance

Developed countries committed to jointly mobilise $100 billion in climate finance annually to aid climate action in the developing world.

A lion’s share of climate funds flows into mitigation projects such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, while adaptation is sidelined, previous reports have shown.

Adaptation finance comes primarily from public sources. A small proportion of climate finance is channelled into adaptation and an overwhelming majority into mitigation, according to the report. This is because mitigation provides greater financial returns to investors than adaptation.

Current global financial flows for adaptation, including from public and private finance sources, are insufficient.

It “falls short of the levels needed to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius or to 1.5°C across all sectors and regions”, the report highlighted.

Further, fossil fuels continue to attract more public and private finance than adaptation and mitigation, the authors noted.

Losses and damages incurred from adverse climate impacts can also reduce the availability of financial resources, they added. This can impede national economic growth, impacting developing and least-developed countries the most, according to the report.

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