The urgency of adapting to the climate emergency

The urgency of adapting to the climate emergency


The world is not sufficiently prepared for the looming climate crisis. This is the conclusion of some 50 personalities gathered under the aegis of the United Nations. If we do not prepare ourselves more for the climate emergency, we will be hard hit by the effects of climate change, among which poverty, rising water levels, migration and food risks will be the most dangerous. The world must adapt as quickly as possible. It must and it can do so. Because the solutions exist and they are proving their worth.

A siren sounds in Bangladesh; the young woman rushes to shelter her children from the approaching typhoon. Farmers in Zimbabwe are no longer suffering from drought; they are using a hardy variety of maize. Danish engineers are redesigning their city streets to make them less prone to flooding. A young urban planner in Colombia is repainting his city's roofs white to reduce the dangers of heat. These images are not science fiction. They are gestures that are practiced every day all over the world. Gestures of adaptation to climate change. Gestures that save lives.

When the typhoon Bhola was shot in 1970 in Bangladesh, killing more than 300,000 people. When the last typhoon Fani has approached this year, with devastating winds, the sirens of the Disaster Management Act have resounded. The death toll was five. Adaptation measures, when taken, prove to be effective. They save lives. But that's not the only benefit. They also save money, an argument that will ring pleasantly in some people's ears. In fact, EUR 1 invested in adaptation measures will eventually yield more than EUR 7 in profits.

Why wait?

Then why wait? Why not immediately put in place a whole arsenal of measures and invest fearlessly to adapt to the inevitable? This is the question asked by the rapporteurs of the Global Commission on Adaptation. They are headed by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a host of prestigious names from all regions of the world: billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates; World Bank boss Kristalina Georgieva; UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet; UN diplomat who was one of the driving forces behind the Paris Climate Accord, Christiana Figueres, etc. The UN is also the world's largest donor to the United Nations. Only one French woman in the credits: Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris.

We are the last generation that can change the course of climate change, and the first that has to live with its consequences. "Ban Ki-moon

We are the last generation that can change the course of climate change, and the first that has to live with its consequences. "said Ban Ki-moon at the presentation of the report in Beijing on 10 September. « Postpone and pay, or plan and thrive "Mr. Ban summarized the choice facing humanity, echoing the commission's slogan.

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The report lists five areas - early warning systems, infrastructure adaptation, agricultural improvements, mangrove protection, water resource protection - in which investments of US$1.8 trillion could generate ". net profits of 7.100 billion ". " Action to slow climate change is promising, but insufficient. We need to invest in a massive effort to adapt to conditions that are now inevitable: rising temperatures, rising oceans, stronger storms, more unpredictable rainfall, and so on. ", summarizes the text. According to the report, without adaptation, agricultural yields could fall as much as 30% by 2050, affecting mainly small farmers.

The number of people lacking water at least one month of the year could rise from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion in 2050, with rising water levels costing a trillion dollars a year, and more than 100 million people in developing countries falling below the poverty line by 2030. « Well-managed adaptation can bring better growth and development "says the report.

Referring to the recent hurricane in the margins of the presentation Dorianwhich devastated the Bahamas in particular, Ban Ki-moon noted that the proliferation of such phenomena could result in "the creation of a "new world".... a sense of inevitability and powerlessness ». But"... that's just not true "and strengthen adaptation" makes economic sense ", can " saving lives (...) and building a better future ". " Adaptation is not an alternative to intensified efforts against climate change, but an essential complement to them ", the report argues, arguing that inaction exposes the world to " a huge economic and human toll ".

In the preface to the report, Ban, Gates and Kristalina Georgieva write: " The climate crisis has arrived: massive forest fires are ravaging fragile habitats, city taps are drying up, droughts are burning land and floods are destroying homes and livelihoods. So far, the response has been woefully inadequate."

Ban Ki-Moon, in undiplomatic language, is angry with the British daily newspaper. The Guardian : " I am really concerned about the lack of vision of the political leaders. They are much more interested in being elected and re-elected, and climate issues are not among their priorities. We see this in the United States with President Trump."

Examples to follow

The rapporteurs are not content with fine words. They show concrete examples and point to urgent measures that need to be taken without delay.

These include early warning systems for impending disasters. The authors are adamant that giving 24 hours advance warning of an impending storm or heat wave can reduce the resulting damage by 30%, saving lives and protecting assets equivalent to at least ten times the cost of the warning system.

The rapporteurs call for the construction of climate-ready infrastructure. Such measures can add 3% to initial costs but save $4 for every dollar spent. Flood protection is essential and Shanghai and other Chinese "sponge cities" are deploying porous pavements, roof gardens and trees in parks to absorb water from heavy rains. Relatively simple measures can also be effective, such as painting roofs with white reflective paint. In the Indian city of Ahmedabad, this has reduced the temperature in the rooms below by 5°C. Revegetate the urban fabric as is the case in several French cities such as Paris or Angers proves to be an effective solution to mitigate the heat waves which are becoming more and more frequent and prolonged, even in our usually more temperate regions.

In order to withstand storms and floods, the rapporteurs insist on implementing measures to protect mangroves, the coastal forests that, from Australia to Mexico, cushion storms, protect people and prevent billions of dollars in flood damage.

Solutions exist, numerous, varied, innovative or drawing on traditional know-how. Adaptation can bring forth bold and inspiring ideas beyond what is currently believed to be possible.

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"We can do it."

What is needed to implement them and meet the challenge of adapting to climate risks? The rapporteurs are clear: political will is needed. « Government officials and business leaders need to radically rethink the way they make decisions. We need a revolution in understanding, planning and finance that makes climate risks visible, integrates these risks into all decisions, and unleashes public and private financial flows. "they write. Sounds insurmountable? Not to the rapporteurs who conclude: " We can do it. ".

Triple dividend

Especially since it is in our economic interest to do so. Indeed, the Commission has found that the overall rate of return on investment in improving resilience is very high, with benefit-cost ratios ranging from 2:1 to 10:1, and even higher in some cases.

In other words, failing to capture the economic benefits of climate change adaptation with high-return investments would result in the loss of billions of dollars in potential growth and prosperity.

One of the striking conclusions of the report is that accommodation measures pay more than they cost. The commissioners refer to a "triple dividend". The first dividend is that of avoided losses, i.e. the ability of the investment to reduce future losses. The second is the positive economic benefits of reducing risks, increasing productivity and stimulating innovation. The third is the social and environmental benefits.

While avoiding losses is the most common motivation for investing in resilience, taken in isolation, these losses underestimate the overall benefits to society. Many adaptation measures generate significant additional economic, social and environmental benefits, which accrue continuously from the first euro invested and do not depend on the future state of the climate. In other words, they are both more secure and more immediate.

The case for adaptation is irrefutably strong, so why don't we do more? There are several fundamental reasons, starting with the fact that most public and private decisions do not sufficiently internalize climate change. In addition, human behaviour does not encourage initiative when the location and timing of a hazard is uncertain. More immediate priorities take precedence. Households, businesses and governments all have short-term planning biases and succumb to what economists call "short-term planning bias". the tragedy of the horizon.

Nevertheless, the major obstacle to action is that those most affected by climate change have little power. Power generally lies with those who are least affected, most secure and best able to protect themselves from the effects of climate change. Large power disparities also exist between countries. For the rich, climate change may seem like an easy problem to overcome, not a lifelong sentence of poverty and suffering as it may mean for the vulnerable and marginalized. Those most at risk often have limited capacity to shape key decisions that affect them. Without their voice, the urgency of adaptation fades into the mists of pusillanimity. 

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