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Climate Action Q4 2023

Setting realistic goals to help address climate adaptation needs

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Henry Neufeldt

Chief Scientific Editor, UNEP Adaptation Gap Report

The number of adaptation actions funded by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has not increased for about a decade despite projects getting bigger.


Underfunded. Underprepared. That is the title of this year’s Adaptation Gap Report, and it reflects growing evidence that progress in adaptation to climate change is slowing on all fronts.

Finance gap for climate adaptation efforts

While most nations now have at least one national adaptation planning instrument and their effectiveness and adequacy are getting better, reaching the remaining 15% of countries has almost come to a standstill.

Most worryingly, actual adaptation finance flows in the form of international public support to developing countries have declined by 15% from the previous year to US$ 21 billion; whereas support for mitigation has continued to rise — albeit at a slow pace.

These findings, from the UN Environment Programme’s latest Adaptation Gap Report, come amidst increasing climate impacts. The report provides an in-depth update — with new data — of developing countries’ adaptation finance needs, and costs show a steep increase to a plausible central range of US$ 215–387 billion per year.

Reaching realistic climate goals

The resulting gap between flows and costs/needs suggests that the current adaptation finance meets just 5–10% of the needs. Doubling 2019 finance levels by 2025 to roughly US$ 40 billion, as urged in the Glasgow Climate Pact, would only narrow the gap by another 5–10%. The hope must be that the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance addresses adaptation needs more realistically.

Climate change simply does not seem to garner enough attention despite constant declarations to the contrary by our leaders.

Acting before climate impacts are irreversible

Why is it that progress in adaptation is slowing when it should be accelerating to keep up with intensifying climate impacts, taking us ever closer to tipping points irreversible within human timescales? Mounting geopolitical challenges, such as rising costs of living in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine certainly play an important role.

Climate change simply does not seem to garner enough attention despite constant declarations to the contrary by our leaders. Losses and damages are mounting quickly and will be many times more costly than mitigation and adaptation. The countries affected most are often among the least developed, with limited capacity to address losses and damages — such that climate shocks will drive them ever deeper into the poverty trap.

What can be done for climate action progress?

At the COP28 negotiations in Dubai, starting on 29 November, the international community can make important headways toward softening the impending climate catastrophe. By pledging strong mitigation action at home and supporting the transition to net zero and climate-resilient development pathways, industrialised nations can show that they are doing more than lip service.

By strengthening adaptation finance and action, such as via a reform of the international finance architecture, developing nations will be more able to deal with climate shocks. By deciding on a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation, it will be possible to track progress in climate risk reduction through effective adaptation action.

Moreover, by operationalising the loss and damage fund and Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, the most climate-vulnerable countries will be better able to deal with the economic and non-economic consequences of climate impacts that cannot be foregone. A prosperous, sustainable future for all still lies within our grasp. Let us take it before nature makes that decision for us.

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