The Gathering Storm: Adapting to Climate Change in a Post-Pandemic World
Context and Framing of the UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap Report 2021
The sixth edition of the U.N. Environment Programme's Adaptation Gap Report (AGR2021)has been produced in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. While encouraging trends in tackling the pandemic are emerging, including the unprecedented development and rollout of highly effective vaccines in many industrialized countries, the COVID-19 crisis continues to create severe human health challenges, economic turmoil and recurring restrictions on daily life in most parts of the world.
Meanwhile, climate change continues its unrelenting path toward a warmer future. As documented by the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in August 2021, some impacts are now irreversible. Many parts of the world have experienced unprecedented climate impacts this year, such as the heat dome and rampant wildfires in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada; severe flooding in Western Europe, eastern parts of the United States, the province of Henan in China and the state of Maharashtra in India; and imminent hunger after continued droughts in Madagascar. The assessment report also documents how, even under the most optimistic emissions mitigation scenarios where net-zero is reached by around 2050, global warming will continue in the short to medium term, potentially leveling off at 1.5 C above preindustrial levels. All this makes adaptation an increasingly urgent global imperative.
At the political level, international climate efforts under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) continue, despite the postponement of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UNFCCC, which was put back from November 2020 to November 2021. COP26 will have a strong focus on adaptation issues and will see consultations and work proceed toward the first Global Stocktake in 2023, including the submission of new and updated nationally determined contributions.
AGR2021 provides an update on current actions and the emerging results of regional-level to national-level adaptation planning, finance and implementation worldwide. All three elements are critical for tracking and assessing progress toward the global goal on adaptation. AGR2021 also expands and strengthens the assessment of future adaptation outcomes, in particular through the inclusion of qualitative expert judgements. In view of the ongoing pandemic, the report provides an in-depth assessment of the emerging consequences of COVID-19 in relation to adaptation planning and finance and highlights the lessons and opportunities for future adaptation efforts through economic growth and climate resilience as part of a green recovery.
Status and Progress of Global Adaptation Planning, Finance and Implementation
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change adaptation is becoming increasingly embedded in policy and planning across the world.
Indicators of adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation planning show positive trends compared to 2020.
New estimates of the costs of adaptation and the estimated financial needs for adaptation from developing countries indicate higher values than previously reported.
The evidence suggests that the adaptation finance gap is larger than indicated in 2020 and widening.
There is an urgent need to scale up and further increase public adaptation finance both for direct investment and for overcoming barriers to private-sector adaptation.
Implementation of adaptation actions is continuing to grow slowly worldwide, despite uncertainty about future trajectories.
Implementation levels must be further scaled up to avoid falling behind with managing climate risks, particularly in developing countries.
Emerging consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have created compound risks that negatively affect the adaptive capacity of governments, communities and societies, particularly in developing countries.
While the stimulus packages for the COVID-19 recovery present a window of opportunity for green and resilient recoveries, these opportunities are not currently being seized.
The COVID-19 crisis also provides lessons to improve climate adaptation planning and financing, as well as opportunities to secure a green recovery.
Outlook on the global progress of adaptation
Overall, progress in national-level adaptation planning, finance and implementation worldwide generally continues to grow and may be partially accelerating, but further ambition is needed.
Despite encouraging trends, the rate and scale of adaptation progress at the national level is not enough to keep up with growing needs and tracking progress remains a challenge.
Growing climate risks require a step change in adaptation ambition.
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