Failure to reduce emissions will dramatically increase adaptation costs

Even with measures to limit global warming to under 2°C, the costs of adaptation are likely to be two to three times the current estimates, says UN report

By Arjuna Srinidhi
Published: Monday 08 December 2014

Photo courtesy: UNEP

In a clear message to the negotiators at the Lima climate summit, a new UN report outlines the soaring costs of adaptation and the urgent need to protect communities from the intensifying impacts of climate change.

The first Adaptation Gap Report  was released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the ongoing COP20 last week. Speaking at the launch of the report, Saleemul Huq, member of the steering committee and a reviewer of the report, said that governments had been asking for this report to complement the emissions gap report that UNEP brings out every year.

Huq further explained that the report is a preliminary assessment of global adaptation gaps in finance, technology and knowledge and lays out a framework for bridging these gaps. 

The adaptation funding gap

The adaptation funding gap is defined as the difference between the costs of meeting a given adaptation target and the amount of finance available to do so.

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report had estimated the cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries to be around US $70 to 100 billion per year by 2050, largely based on World Bank studies from 2010. The Adaptation Gap Report, however, finds that these figures could be significant underestimates as the cost of adaptation in South Asia alone could be as much as $40 billion. For all developing countries, it could be as high as $150 billion per year by 2025 and $250 to 500 billion per year by 2050.

Compare this to the funds available in 2012-13. Public adaptation financing was estimated to have been about $23 to 26 billion, of which about 88 per cent came from Development Finance Institutions, nine per cent from other government channels and only about two per cent from adaptation-dedicated climate funds. 

Apart from the financial gaps, the report also analyses a number of other adaptation issues that feature in the ongoing climate negotiations. These include:

Development v adaptation

The report explains that the two issues are very closely linked because “mainstreaming adaptation” in development activities has been receiving increasing emphasis. It suggests that adaptation targets should be considered in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Loss and damage

The report discusses the physical and technical limits of the potential of additional adaptation efforts at reducing climate impacts. For instance, in dealing with damages from extreme floods, sea level rise or heat stress on outdoor activities, the report says technological advances may lower the impacts but cannot eliminate them, and in many cases they are likely to increase with further climate change.

Overall goal on adaptation

Global adaptation targets would allow adaptation to be considered in a broader strategic framework rather than primarily in specific places or regions, according to the report. It further explains that a global goal or target could be supplemented with sub goals or targets that would be sufficiently flexible to be appropriate at regional, national, sector and lower levels. Critical elements in the overall goal on adaptation would also need to address technology and knowledge gaps. 

"The report provides a powerful reminder that the potential cost of inaction carries a real price tag. Debating the economics of our response to climate change must become more honest," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP and under-secretary-general of the United Nations, according to an official press release.

"National authorities and the international community should take the necessary steps to ensure the funding, technology and knowledge gaps are addressed in future planning and budgeting. Of particular concern are the implications on least developed countries, whose financial resources for investing in development will need to be redeployed to financing adaptation measures,” he added.

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