Developing countries will require up to $340bn every year by 2030 to adapt to climate change, but the world is far off track in meeting this need and is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas and extreme weather, the UN has said.
While the majority of countries were making plans to adapt, planning was too slow and the financial needs outstripped the support being made available, the UN Environment Programme’s annual adaptation report said on Thursday.
“The world is failing to protect people from the here-and-now impacts of the climate crisis,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres.
Ahead of this year’s COP27 UN climate summit that begins next week in Egypt, Guterres said rich countries must present “a credible road map” for how they would deliver $40bn annually in support for adaptation to the most vulnerable nations by 2025, a promise made at COP26.
This year has seen many countries ravaged by extreme weather events including floods, fires and heatwaves that scientists say will become more common and extreme with every fraction of a degree of global warming. Temperatures have already risen at least 1.1C in the industrial era.
Funding for adaptation is expected to be a key theme at COP27, and separate from the contentious issue of financing for “loss and damage”, or support for developing countries that are already suffering destruction, such as the widespread flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria.
Last week, a UNEP report concluded that the national emissions reduction pledges of nearly 200 countries set the world on course for a temperature rise of between 2.4C and 2.6C by 2100 compared with pre-industrial levels.
In its latest analysis, the UNEP found that more than eight in 10 of those nations were making adaptation plans, for example by introducing new laws and policies. However, international financial support to help developing countries adapt to a warming world were “5-10 times below estimated needs and the gap continues to widen”, it said.
Adaptation finance for developing countries reached $29bn in 2020, an increase of 4 per cent compared with 2019, according to OECD data. But they would need between $160bn and $340bn annually by 2030 to fund adaptation measures, such as flood defences and early warning systems, according to UNEP analysis.
In February, a landmark report by the world’s top climate scientists found that counties had a “brief and rapidly closing” window to adapt to climate change, with the risks associated with lower levels of warming greater than previously thought. Some losses were already irreversible and ecosystems were reaching the limits of their ability to adapt to changes, they warned.
However, rich countries have so far failed to deliver on a promise to provide $100bn annually in climate finance for developing countries between 2020 and 2025, which has dented trust between nations and in the international climate negotiation process.
“Unprecedented political will and long-term investments in adaptation are urgently needed,” the UNEP said. “Without a step change in support, adaptation actions could be outstripped by accelerating climate risks.”
The UN in collaboration with multilateral climate funds and other climate groups are working on ideas for how to make adaptation projects more “investable”, and on a new “Adaptation Pipeline Accelerator” that it says will provide financing and technical expertise.
“Ninety per cent of developing countries are not investment grade. That’s a major challenge both for investments in mitigation and investments on adaptation,” said a senior UN official this week.
Multilateral development banks needed to “examine what contribution they’re making to solving and addressing these massive finance mobilisation gaps”, the official said.
“We need to literally throw the global financial kitchen sink at these challenges because we’re not mobilising finance at the scale and pace that’s urgently needed in the developing world.”
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