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Climate adaptation finance: Fact or fiction?

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Global emissions and the climate crisis are accelerating, and there remains a significant gap between government pledges and levels of action consistent with the longterm temperature goal set down in the Paris Agreement.
Human emissions have already caused global temperatures to rise 1.1°C above preindustrial levels and may cause a 1.5°C temperature rise by as early as 2030 (WMO, 2020; IPCC, 2018). Yet vulnerable regions are already suffering from the associated impacts. In its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the IPCC outlined that even if the global temperature increase does not exceed 1.5°C, far-reaching adaptation measures will be required. For many regions, 1.5°C of global warming will stretch the limits of the adaptability and adaptive capacity of many human and natural systems (IPCC, 2018).

The impacts of climate change will be hardest on the poorest and most vulnerable. The associated climate shocks will require ever deeper and more immediate responses to reduce underlying vulnerabilities and enhance climate resilience. Such responsive capacities are urgently required because climate impacts are compounding existing global inequalities. Those already living and working at the margins, with limited capacity to adapt, are those who are being required to make the most drastic responses to the climate crisis. In many parts of the world, the climate crisis is having a disproportionate impact on women and girls because of their social and domestic roles and tasks (e.g. taking care of the land, carrying water, caring for children and family members). and the discrimination they face (e.g. restricted access to productive resources and services, lack of participation in decision making and education). In the event of a disaster, the risk of death is higher among women and children than among men.

While the burdens of adaptation will fall predominantly on the world’s poorest, the historical responsibility for global emissions resides squarely with the developed nations. Despite the fact that the poorest 50% of the world’s population is responsible for just 7% of global emissions, developing countries will face 75-80% of the costs of climate change (World Bank, 2010; Gore, 2020). Thus climate change will chiefly affect those communities who have contributed least to the crisis, and this injustice necessitates a flow of financial support from rich to poor so that the latter can take suitable action.

To enable climate-resilient development, financial support and assistance for tackling climate change play an important role in the adaptation response by developing countries. In 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries undertook to mobilise $100bn per year for climate action in developing countries by 2020.
It was further agreed that these resources should be balanced between adaptation and mitigation. However, this commitment is far from being fulfilled.

In international negotiations, adaptation to climate change has been consistently overshadowed by a heavier emphasis on reducing emissions. Consequently, there is a significant disconnect between efforts to provide financial support for adaptation and actual adaptation needs in those areas most at risk. The United Nations Adaptation Gap report estimates that the annual cost of adaptation in developing countries could reach $140-300bn by 2030 (UNEP, 2018). However, the OECD estimates that climate finance in 2018 totalled $79.9bn, of which just $16.8bn, or 21%, was earmarked for adaptation (OECD, 2020). In addition to these inadequate volumes of adaptation finance, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) suggests that climate finance provided by multilateral climate change funds rarely reaches local recipients; less than 10% of these disbursements are used for adaptation purposes at local level (IIED, 2017).

As a result, those whose livelihoods are being disrupted – the communities hit first and hardest by climate change – are receiving inadequate levels of support. And even where financial resources do exist, communities struggle to access and utilise them.