Our Burning Planet


Global climate adaptation failure puts world at risk, new UN report finds

Global climate adaptation failure puts world at risk, new UN report finds
Photos: Unsplash | A woman walks down a flooded road in Bangalore, India, 20 October 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jagadeesh NV)

A new report emphasises that while we urgently need to increase efforts to adapt to the climate impacts that are already here and those yet to come, global efforts in adaptation planning, financing and implementation are not keeping pace with the growing risks.

The world has seen no shortage of extreme climate events this year — from devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal to severe droughts in Kenya, deadly heat waves in India, an extreme hurricane in the US and record-breaking heat waves throughout Europe. 

To avoid these climate impacts from worsening, the international community must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

However, as the Unep (United Nations Environment Programme) Adaptation Gap Report 2022, titled “Too Little, Too Slow: Climate adaptation failure puts world at risk” emphasises, while we urgently need to increase efforts to adapt to the climate impacts that are already here and those yet to come, global efforts in adaptation planning, financing and implementation are not keeping pace with the growing risks. 

Henry Neufeldt, the chief scientific editor of the report, highlighted at its launch on Thursday what the last IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Working Group II report warned, which was that even under low-emission scenarios the world will face severe climate risks. 

“This year’s devastating flooding in South Asia and severe heat, drought and fires across multiple regions of the Northern Hemisphere exemplify these mounting climate risks,” said Neufeldt.


The Unep report found that these climate impacts are already coming at only 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperatures and that nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement point towards global warming of 2.4-2.6°C by the end of the century. Current policies, however, point to a 2.8°C temperature rise. 

“Therefore, adaptation must take centre stage alongside mitigation in the global response to the climate crisis,” said Neufeldt. 

Dr Debra Roberts, the co-chair of the report, explained to Our Burning Planet at the launch of the last IPCC report in April: “For the longest while, the debate both in South Africa and internationally was a belief we could mitigate our way out of the problem.  

“And I think what we’ve realised now, in the absence of the kind of ambitious climate action that we’ve called for [keeping global warming below 1.5°C], adaptation is going to be an essential part of dealing with the challenging reality.” 

Roberts explained that mitigation is dealing with the source of the problem, “either by stopping the production of greenhouse gases or increasing the sinks that are capable of absorbing them,” whereas adaptation is “the response to the changes that are now locked into the system and already occurring”. 

The Adaptation Gap Report warned that even with ambitious investment in adaptation, we can’t fully prevent climate change-related impacts.  

“Hence, dealing with losses and damages cannot be avoided and must be addressed adequately at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and at national levels,” said the report. 

It illustrated that as insufficient mitigation of the climate crisis results in more losses and damages, we will need more adaptation measures to deal with them, thus making mitigation and adaptation intrinsically linked.  

“Taking adaptation and mitigation jointly into account in planning, finance and implementation enhances the chances for co-benefits and limits potential trade-offs, such as hydropower reducing food security or irrigation increasing energy consumption,” stated the report.  

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Climate finance 

The report found that while 84% of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had established adaptation plans, strategies, laws and policies, the financing for those plans hadn’t followed through. Additionally, while international adaptation finance is going to developing countries and is slowly increasing, it isn’t enough to meet requirements. 

The report found that international adaptation finance flows to developing countries were at $29-billion in 2020, but estimated that annual adaptation costs/needs will be between $160-billion and $340-billion by 2030 and between $315-billion and $565-billion by 2050. 

The report found that developing countries also use domestic sources to fund adaptation efforts — for example, in SA, more than 60% of adaptation actions were domestically funded. 

Political will 

Amid the current global energy crisis, triggered by gas supply shortages that resulted from the Ukraine war, there have been debates swirling that the renewable energy transition has backfired, with countries now scrambling for gas, oil and coal resources, Germany, France and Spain buying more coal from South Africa despite their climate commitments to reduce carbon emissions, and the African Union’s “African Common Position” on energy access and resource development placing a crucial role on fossil fuel expansion in Africa. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “New scramble for Africa: Closure of Russian gas pipeline brings debate over African fossil fuel use into sharp focus” 

The report recognises that the war in Ukraine, global supply shortages and the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to an evolving energy and food security crises, but “cannot be allowed to derail international efforts to increase adaptation”. 

And thus: “Unprecedented political will and far more long-term investments in adaptation are urgently needed to stop the adaptation gap widening.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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