As the climate crisis accelerates and the Earth nears a fast-approaching “temperature tipping point,” the world’s nations need to speed up their adaptation planning and funding, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns in its latest Adaptation Gap Report.
While nearly 85% of countries either have or are developing adaptation plans, UNEP says, adequate funding is urgently needed to help poorer nations keep pace.
“While the vast majority of nations have bolstered their plans for the effects of global warming, there remains a vast funding gap for developing countries, many of which are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of global heating,” writes The Independent, citing the report. With the agency’s Emissions Gap Report last month putting the world on track for a 3.0°C average temperature rise by 2100, and the World Meteorological Organization projecting a one in five chance that global average temperatures will exceed the relative safety of 1.5°C within the next three years, UNEP says devastating climate impacts are already baked in, even if devastating overshoot can be delayed.
“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, and the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities are the ones being pummelled by the effects.
“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,” she added.
Beyond stressing the moral imperative of supporting regions that sit in the expanding crosshairs of the crisis, the UNEP report notes the economic benefits of a green pandemic recovery and strenuous climate adaptation efforts.
“Adapting makes good financial sense,” The Independent explains. “A 2019 global commission studying adaptation estimated that US$1.8 trillion investment in measures would lead to $7.1 trillion in avoided costs and additional benefits.”
But according to the UNEP report, “not enough countries are taking advantage of this opportunity.” The organization is calling for public and private finance to be “ramped up”, and for climate adaptation projects to be launched more quickly.
And speed is certainly of the essence: the UNEP report estimates that adaptation costs in vulnerable countries currently stand at $70 billion annually, a figure that is expected “to at least double by the end of the decade and could soar to $500 billion by 2050.” According to a Reuters dispatch on the report, the authors say a full half the world’s climate change financing should be put toward “helping poorer nations adapt to the effects of global warming, such as droughts, rising seas, and floods.”
UNEP is also urging countries to recognize the bang-for-buck value in “nature-based solutions”: while remedies in areas like urban heat reduction and flood control are often low in cost, the organization found a dearth of plans and funds. “While support for green initiatives has risen over the last 20 years, only $12 billion of the $94 billion total for mitigation and adaptation projects was spent on nature-based solutions,” The Independent writes.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF)—which the Independent describes as “the world’s biggest money pot for helping developing countries reduce emissions and respond to climate crises”—has pledged to invest 40% of its dollars into adaptation. And “since 2006, close to 400 adaptation projects financed by funds linked to the Paris Agreement have gotten under way in developing countries,” while “more than 500,000 people have been trained in climate resilience measures.”
But the GCF has had its own recurring problems with funding and process. And the UNEP report found that among the 1,700 adaptation initiatives it surveyed, “only 3% had already reported real reductions to climate risks posed to the communities.”
While the world’s climate adaptation response remains low and slow, the climate crisis continues to accelerate. Last year tied with 2016 as the hottest on record, with over 50 million people enduring the associated impacts of drought, locust plagues, flooding, wildfires, and fierce tropical storms.
“The world’s oceans reached their hottest level in recorded history in 2020, supercharging the extreme weather impacts of the climate emergency,” reports The Guardian, citing research published recently in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.
The new study found that the world’s oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules more heat last year than they did than in 2019. “This is equivalent to every person on Earth running 80 hairdryers all day, every day, or the detonation of about four atomic bombs a second,” The Guardian writes.
Noting that “a record 29 tropical storms” emerged out of the Atlantic in 2020, the UK news outlet explains that warmer seas provide energy for bigger storms, while at the same time disrupting rainfall patterns, leading to flash floods, droughts, and the conditions that fuel wildfires.
Adding to the dire picture, warmer water absorbs less carbon dioxide: while 30% of the world’s carbon emissions are currently taken up by the oceans (thereby making them more acidic and less able to support coral reefs and other marine life), this capacity will lessen as the planet warms.
And then there is the impact of global warming on vital carbon sinks, like forests. In a separate report, A new study in the journal Science Advances warns that land ecosystems could be fast approaching a “temperature tipping point,” beyond which they will “flip” from carbon sinks to carbon emitters.
Measuring the correlation between temperature and plant photosynthesis (which allows plants to store carbon by turning it into cellulose), researchers from Northern Arizona University found that 18°C is the optimal temperature for about 85% of the world’s plant species.
“Beyond these temperatures, rates of photosynthesis—and hence the ability of land to store carbon—start to decline,” explains The Independent.
Worse still, at around 25°C, the rate of plant respiration (which releases CO2 into the atmosphere) begins to exceed the rate of photosynthesis, creating “a powerful tipping point for the land sink of carbon,” according to the study.
“Unlike other tipping elements in the Earth system, the climate tipping point for the terrestrial biosphere could be exceptionally close—20 to 30 years away—without action,” said lead author Katharyn Duffy, a postdoctoral scientist with NAU.
While less than 10% of land ecosystems are currently experiencing temperature-triggered declines in photosynthesis, there are no grounds for complacency. “The ‘buffer’ or ‘discount’ against carbon emissions that we currently receive from the biosphere is more fragile than we previously realized,” Duffy told The Independent.