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How important is adapting to a changing climate? Ask a poor country about the environment| Environment
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How important is adapting to a changing climate? Ask a poor country about the environment| Environment


Monday will be the Cop26 summit. the need for countries around the world to adapt to the climate crisis’s effects. Adaptation was long overlooked at the Cop meetings. The focus is more on reducing greenhouse gases emissions.

For many years, there were fears that talking about adaptation would distract from the urgent need to cut emissions, or even that it would be a “cop-out” – by suggesting that countries could adapt their way out of trouble as a cheaper alternative to shifting away from fossil fuels.

These fears have been dispelled as the climate emergency has become more evident in the form extreme weather events that scientific advances have made it possible to link to global warming. Last week in Glasgow, UN secretary general António Guterres said that nearly 4 billion people suffered climate-related disasters in the past decade.

Adaptation can take the form of seawalls, flood barriers, storm drains in cities and shelters for displaced people, but there is also scope for “nature-based solutions” such as tree planting to help prevent landslips, restoring wetlands to act as sponges for heavy rainfall and planting crop varieties that are more resilient to higher temperatures and water shortages. All of these require investment and most poor countries can’t raise the funds themselves. But little of the cash needed has so far been forthcoming, and donor efforts through “climate finance” have tended to focus on projects, such as renewable energy plants, that reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also turn a profit.

Sonam Wangdi, chair of the Least Developed Countries group, which represents more than a billion people, said: “Adaptation is extremely important. We need to adapt immediately, and that means we need money. However, the money is not yet available. How it’s going to come, I don’t know, but we need the money.”

He highlighted the increasing evidence of the global effects of climate change: MadagascarPeople are in severe poverty in Bangladesh and the Philippines, where climate-related famines are being called first. In Bhutan, where he lives, the glaciers are receding which is causing flooding and water shortages.

Poor countries were helped $80bn (£60bn) in climate finance in 2019According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the latest year for which data is available is 2005. Only 25% of that funding was used to help countries adapt to the effects of the climate crisis. The bulk of the funding went towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Guterres has called on half of climate finance be dedicated to adaptation efforts. “Public and multilateral development banks [such as the World Bank] should start as soon as possible,” he added. And Wangdi warned that without swift action to protect countries’ vital infrastructure, the effects of climate breakdown will cause potentially irrevocable damage and could reverse decades of progress on lifting people out of poverty.

Poor countries emphasize that they are taking action for their own benefit, even without donor aid. “It is not that we are sitting around waiting for money,” said one negotiator. “We know we have to do this. We are putting our own budgets towards this, but we do not have enough and could do so much more if we had some help.”

Chief executive of the Global Centre on Adaptation, Patrick Verkooijen pointed out the Africa Adaptation Acceleration program, which aims at attracting $2.5bn annually to the developed world to increase the $6bn a years already coming from Africa’s hard-pressed nations. The money is “a drop in the bucket” of what developed countries are capable of providing, he said, but would make a vast difference, as people in Africa were already suffering the effects of extreme weather.

He said that projects that help communities adapt and sustain themselves in a changing climate could create new jobs as well as safeguard existing ones and help fragile economies recover following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teddy Mugabo, chief executive at the Rwanda Green Fund, pointed out Green GicumbiA project that involved 250,000 Rwandans in an area prone to flooding or landslides. “That they face these risks is no fault of their own,” she said. “They are among the millions whose lives have already been fundamentally altered by global warming.”

The project involves forest management, watershed protection, sustainable energy and using “climate-smart” techniques to manage water and soil resources and plant the right crops in ways that make the most of the soil and climate.

Developed countries must also adapt to the changing climate. Thomas Vilsack, US agriculture secretary, stated that his government was working to develop climate-smart agricultural technology that would allow American farmers to adapt to changing weather conditions, water scarcity, and longer dry spells.

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