Far too little is being done to protect people from the heatwaves, storms and floods being supercharged by climate change, according to a high-level international commission. It aims to rebuild the political will to act that was damaged when US president, Donald Trump, rejected the global Paris agreement.
The Global Commission on Adaptation is being led by Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. It involves 17 countries including China, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Canada and the UK.
Much more money is being invested in cutting carbon emissions than preparing for the climate change impacts that are already inevitable. More than $380bn (£287bn) was spent on reducing CO2 in 2015-16, compared with just $20bn boosting protection from extreme weather.
Former UN secretary general Ban said a step change in adaptation can and must be achieved: “Climate change is happening much, much faster than one may think. [But] where there is political will, anything can be done.”
However, he said the international consensus to fight global warming had been damaged by Trump’s actions. On Sunday, Trump questioned whether global warming was caused by human activities, contradicting the long-established conclusions of the world’s scientists.
“We were very much united until December 2015 in Paris,” Ban told the Guardian. “Now unfortunately the level of solidarity is being loosened, especially by the Trump administration. Even though it is just one country, it has caused big political damage.”
Adaptation measures to safeguard people’s homes, food, water and energy are being implemented in some places, but at far too small a scale, the commissioners said.
“Continued economic growth and reductions in global poverty are possible despite these daunting challenges – but only if societies invest much more in adaptation,” said Ban. “The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual and the benefits are many times larger.”
“We are at a moment of high risk and great promise,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “If everyone does their part, we can reduce carbon emissions, increase access to affordable energy, and help farmers everywhere grow more productive crops.”
“Our climate has already changed. Dramatic weather events and volatile seasons are the new normal,” said Georgieva. “We face a choice: business as usual and hope for the best. Or we act now and build for a resilient future.”
The new group is comprised of 28 commissioners, including two national presidents, representing all regions of the globe and all sectors of development and industry. The US administration is not represented but Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, is a commissioner.
The commission will produce a major report on adapting to climate change for the UN climate summit in September 2019, followed by a year of action to implement its recommendations.
“Scientists and economists believe the cost of adaptation could rise to $500bn per year by 2050 and, in the mid-term, $300bn by 2030,” said Ban. This money is available, he said: “I don’t think it is a matter of [getting the] money. The money can be mobilised. If there is political will, I think we can handle this matter.”
In particular, the trillions of dollars held by investment managers and insurers should be put to work, Ban said: “We should not expect all this money to come from governments. The private sector has to be fully engaged.” He said 63% of the $380bn invested in cutting emissions in 2015-16 was from the private sector.