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Leaders flag need to adapt to 'punishing reality' of hotter planet

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 22 April 2021 21:06 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Shilpi, a flood-affected woman poses for a picture inside her flooded house in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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Hefty investments in adapting to climate shifts are needed in countries around the world to protect lives, property and economies, leaders tell President Biden's climate summit

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, April 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After powerful Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji in 2016, swiftly wiping out a third of the country's GDP, the Pacific island nation developed a plan to adapt to surging climate change threats and move people out of harm's way.

But shifting 40 at-risk communities to new land, creating "eco-walls" of storm-stopping mangroves and offering new forms of insurance and other help to adapt Fiji's economy will cost $9 billion, the country's attorney general predicted Thursday.

Such hefty investment is needed now in countries around the world to protect lives, property and economies as climate risks surge, he and other leaders warned at U.S. President Joe Biden's international climate summit on Earth Day.

Cyclone Winston was just "a chilling preview of the future", said Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also Fiji's economy minister.

"Tomorrow it will be New York City, Houston, Miami" facing similar storm devastation, he predicted.

As planetary heating drives worsening wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and sea-level rise around the globe, efforts not only to cut climate-changing emissions but also adapt to rising risks are vital, Biden told the summit.

He warned of a "punishing reality that will come if we don't move" to deal with climate change, adding "we can't resign ourselves to that future". Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, emphasised that even today "climate change is a lived reality for millions around the world".

"Their lives and livelihoods are already facing its adverse consequences," he said.


As countries recognise the growing risks, many are already taking action. Food importer Qatar, fearing future climate-driven commodity shortages, has invested in doubling local food production, its environment minister Abdulla Subaie said.

And Pakistan, hit by worsening floods and droughts, is trying to capture floodwater and channel it into aquifers and wetlands to provide water in dry times, Malik Amin Aslam, the country's climate change minister, told the summit.

Low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh now spends about $5 billion a year - or 2.5% of GDP - on measures to cope with threats from fiercer storms to floods, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said.

Rwanda similarly has used its own national "green fund" to create 140,000 green jobs, protect 30,000 hectares of watersheds and water bodies and create 40 model sustainable villages, said Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, its environment minister.

In the United States, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told the summit he would "reorient" the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - which responds to the country's growing drumbeat of disasters - to a greater focus on preparing for risks rather than dealing with the aftermath.

In particular, the agency will boost efforts to ready the country for "novel" threats, "above all those posed by climate change", he said.

A failure to step up adaptation and resilience to climate threats around the world would likely have global consequences, officials warned.

In a world closely linked by trade, travel and financial flows, crop failure in one place could lead to hunger, worsening poverty, migration and refugees in others, they said.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that "none of us are resilient until we all are. We are far too interdependent and interconnected," said Mujawamariya of Rwanda.

With climate change impacts likely to drive growing threats to international security, Eamon Ryan, Ireland's climate and environment minister, said increasing spending now on adaptation and resilience amounted to "essentially a peace project".

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called for swifter action both to curb emissions and adapt to rising risks, in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord.

"The Paris Agreement is humanity's life insurance," she said.

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(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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