Adapting to a warmer planet has never been more important and at COP27, progress has advanced

As the COP27 climate summit concluded over the weekend, it is important to recognize that progress has been made on climate adaptation, although more can be done.

“Climate adaptation” is a term for how countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. This could be, for example, strengthening infrastructure to better withstand disasters, moving cities out of floodplains, or transforming the agricultural sector to minimize food insecurity.

As the costs of disasters rise, deciding who will fund climate adaptation has become increasingly urgent for developing nations. For decades, they’ve been calling on rich countries — largely responsible for the climate crisis in the first place — to foot the bill.

We then explore what COP27 achieved, how these achievements could translate into tangible commitments, and what needs to happen now to give everyone a fighting chance to survive on a hotter planet.

Adaptation & Agriculture day at COP27.

A thorny issue

The thorniest issues in climate change negotiations concern finance: who gives, who receives, how the money is received and what kind of financing is made available.

Developed countries don’t have a good track record at this. In 2009 they pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, a goal that remains unmet.

Read more: COP27: a major turning point but ultimately an inadequate response to the climate crisis

Furthermore, most climate finance thus far has been directed towards helping developing nations mitigate their emissions, rather than adaptation.

As Dina Saleh, regional director of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development, explained during the conference, the failure of rural people to adapt could lead to more poverty, migration and conflict. She said:

We call on world leaders from developed nations to honor their pledges to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing nations and to channel half of that amount [for] climate adaptation.

Funding for adaptation is still insufficient

The United Nations has set up several funds to channel finance for adaptation, including the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Special Fund for Climate Change and the Adaptation Fund.

At COP27, eight countries pledged $105.6 million for adaptation through the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Special Fund for Climate Change, including Sweden, Germany and Ireland. Others, such as the United States and Canada, have expressed potential future financial commitments.

These funds add to the $413 million pledged last year at COP26 in Glasgow, through the Least Developed Countries Fund. The money will go towards more urgent adaptation efforts, such as strengthening infrastructure, social safety nets and diversifying livelihoods.

Read more: COP27 ‘loss and damage’ fund for developing countries could be a game changer or another empty climate promise

There is also new funding specifically for small island developing states. While this development has been welcomed by the Alliance of Small Island States, it also says faster processes are needed to make the money available.

Small island nations like Tuvalu are already experiencing severe climate impacts and projections are dire. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that some islands in the atoll are likely to experience coral bleaching every year by 2040.

These islands are also particularly vulnerable to tropical cyclones. A single major event can set development back years. For example, in 2016 Tropical Cyclone Winston destroyed over a third of Fiji’s GDP in about 36 hours.

Category 5 Cyclone Winston destroyed thousands of homes in Fiji in 2016.
Image AAP/Joseph Hing, UNICEF

Similarly, other highly vulnerable nations in Africa and Asia are calling for easier access to adaptation finance. The Adjustment Fund included an innovation that gave countries easier access to money and ensured that it responded directly to each country’s needs.

At COP27, this fund received over $230 million in new pledges. However, it currently has unfunded $380 million worth of adaptation projects in the pipeline, signaling an urgent need for increased funding.

Progress is advancing

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the “Global Adaptation Goal” to guide collective progress on climate adaptation around the world. At COP27, countries agreed to develop a framework for this goal in 2023. This includes gender-sensitive approaches and science-based metrics and targets to monitor progress.

Another important element is the ‘comprehensive balance sheet’ on adaptation, which measures progress at the national level in meeting the obligations of the Paris Agreement.

At COP27, it was noted that so far only 40 countries have submitted their national adaptation plans, which identify adaptation priorities and strategies to reduce climate vulnerability. Questions remain about how to speed up the planning, implementation and funding of these plans.

The Sharm-el-Seikh adaptation agenda was also launched by the two UN-appointed high-level climate champions. These seek to engage non-state actors, such as cities, businesses and investors, to advance ambition for climate adaptation.

The agenda’s ultimate goal is to help 4 billion people become more resilient to the impacts of climate change by 2030. It has 30 adaptation outcomes to target, including:

  • protect 3 billion people from disasters by installing early warning and smart systems in the most vulnerable communities

  • investing $4 billion to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves worldwide

  • mobilizing US$140-300 billion through public and private funding sources for adaptation.

Man makes a speech behind a podium
Simon Stiell, UN climate chief, speaks during a closing plenary session of COP27.
AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

And now?

Many commitments were made at COP26 and COP27 on financing for adaptation, and the next step is to get the money where it is most urgently needed.

As climate impacts are already manifesting rapidly, communities around the world need to develop the capacity to plan for climate adaptation. This requires action at all levels and should not be left to local communities alone.

It is crucial to make progress on climate adaptation in the coming years. Early action and planning can save thousands of dollars, but only if we have robust processes in place to make decisions before impacts occur. This requires more planning, investment and collaboration at the local, regional, state and international levels.

But the most important thing is the will to change our mentality. We need to stop operating in a business-as-usual model and push for a more sustainable world in this changing climate.

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