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More global warming, more action to cope?

by Laurie Goering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 11 November 2016 11:46 GMT

A man walks past the carcasses of sheep that died from El Nino-related drought in Marodijeex town of southern Hargeysa, in northern Somalia's semi-autonomous Somaliland region, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

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If Trump’s election slows the drive to curb climate change, efforts to adapt to a hotter planet may need to surge

Cutting climate-changing emissions is an urgent priority, and it’s no surprise that much of the talk at the U.N. climate conference in Morocco this week is about ways to make that happen, from more solar panels and wind turbines to stronger protection for forests.

But global temperature rise - even if all the promises made under the Paris Agreement on climate change are kept - is still projected to hit 2.8 degrees Celsius, quite a lot higher than the target of “well under 2 degrees” set at Paris, according to the latest figures from groups running the Climate Action Tracker.

And that’s before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, sets about trying to fulfil his campaign pledges and dismantle the emissions reduction policies of the world’s second biggest contributor to climate change.

What that means, campaigners said at the Marrakesh talks, is that intensifying climate impacts are coming, and it’s time to urgently figure out how to put together the policies and money to help people adapt to them.

“When we talk about solar panels and wind farms, that’s just a means to an end. And that (end) is safety and security for all of us sitting here, and particularly the vulnerable who are facing impacts day in and day out,” said Harjeet Singh, ActionAid climate policy lead. “This important piece has got very little attention.”

In Paris last year, negotiators agreed to boost efforts on “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptive response in the context of global temperature rise”.

Climate adaptation encompasses a huge range of things - from building higher flood protection walls and adopting more drought-resistant crops to creating early warning systems, setting up rainwater harvesting, and training people in new ways of earning money.

But it is going to be a moving target with the uncertain level of temperature increases ahead. How drought-resistant does a crop need to be? How much stored water is enough to get through ever-longer dry seasons? What happens to low-lying island nations if sea level keeps rising?

“The mitigation target is really key,” said Sandeep Chamling Rai, an adaptation policy expert with WWF International. “We all know there is a limit to how much we can adapt. Beyond that it will be hard to adapt, and we will go to loss and damage.”

Adding to the problem in getting adaptation efforts rolled out is that there’s not nearly enough money to go around. The U.N. Environment Programme has estimated that the costs of adaptation globally could reach $250 billion to $500 billion a year by 2050 – but so far the amount of international donor funding going to adaptation each year is just $10 billion. The promise is to double that by 2020, but still “the need is really, really high compared to what’s on the table”, Rai said.


Could private companies make up some of the shortfall, as is happening with renewable energy investment? It’s unlikely, Singh said.

“On adaptation we need public financing, because markets and businesses and industry don’t see any business sense to invest in adaptation” beyond the needs of their own companies, he said.

Sven Harmling, climate change advocacy coordinator at CARE International, argued “there is a strong case to be made that adaptation finance is an investment into human development and security”. As such, it should be linked more clearly with efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he added.

Singh suggests that because the most vulnerable communities already have long experience of working on adapting to climate impacts, they may be able to pass on low-cost solutions that might be missed by richer countries which tend to rely on more expensive technology.

Most importantly, experts said, negotiators at the U.N. climate talks need to quickly flesh out the new Global Goal on Adaptation enshrined in the Paris Agreement. That should include linking the amount of money earmarked for adaptation to the level of expected emissions cuts, so that more warming would mean more cash to deal with it, they said.

Teresa Anderson, a resilience policy officer at ActionAid, said droughts around the world linked to the 2015-2016 El Niño weather pattern highlight why action on adaptation to climate extremes is so urgent.

“This has shown incredibly starkly the need for investment in resilience,” she said. “Countries are pleading for support in adaptation. How are they supposed to cope with crises like this without it?”

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