Global scientists call for economic stimulus to address climate adaptation and COVID
The world is in a growing climate emergency that requires immediate action. With global greenhouse gas emissions rapidly increasing, our fast-warming world is already experiencing major disruptions from more intense droughts, fires, heatwaves, floods, destructive tropical cyclones and other extreme events. Climate science has now attributed the rising intensity of observed extreme climatic events to human influences. We have demonstrated that greenhouse–gas emissions have intensified heat waves and mortality across aII continents. We have the evidence that global warming has increased the flooding risk of intense hurricanes across the Caribbean and the southeast of the United States, as well as typhoons across the western Pacific. We know that human influences have increased both observed droughts and extreme precipitation events on all continents.
Over the past three years, climate-related disasters have cost the world $650 billion – more than 0.25 per cent of global GDP for those years. The UN has warned that by 2040 damages associated with climate change could soar to $54 trillion.
We must continue to mitigate rapidly with ambitious emissions reductions and increased removals by natural systems. It is clear that business as usual is no longer an option. We can no longer ”avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”5. We are experiencing the adverse consequences of that interference now. Our failure to adapt and mitigate COVID–19 parallels the disruption to come if we do not act immediately to mitigate and adapt our world in response to our changing climate.
The IntergovernmentaI PaneI on CIimate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as ”the process of adjustment to actuaI or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or expIoit beneficiaI opportunities“. Throughout history, peopIe have adapted to change. But as our faiIed response to the Covid–19 pandemic has demonstrated the worId is simpIy not ready to face the inevitabIe impacts of our climate emergency. Unless we step up and adapt now,
the resuIts wiII be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricuIturaI Iosses and soaring IeveIs of migration with an enormous toII on human Iife. We must avoid inaction where those who are not rich lose out, and cannot react in the timeframe necessary and without resources to make the required changes.
The pandemic combined with intensification of extreme weather events has shown how unprepared we are and that we must heaI nature in order to heaI ourseIves. As governments around the worId prepare massive stimu- Ius pIans to repair the damage of Covid–19 shutdowns, they must also repair the damage to nature, because of its important role in resilience to climate change. If we continue with the unfettered destruction of our natural environment, Covid–19 wiII not be the Iast pandemic to upend our Iives, and cIimate change wiII acceIerate beyond the capabilities of nature and humans to adapt.
The twin threats of Covid–19 and cIimate change are, above aII, caused by human actions. We must do everything in our power to ensure our response to both is coordinated and becomes a watershed moment for investment in a more sustainable world. The sooner we act the better off we will be.
This means taking urgent steps to help communities adjust to the world they are living in today. A world in which millions of people struggle on a daily basis.
Without adaptation, a changing climate may depress growth in global food production by up to 30 percent by 2050. The 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected7. The number of people who may lack suficient water, at Ieast one month per year, is projected to soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 20507. Rising seas and greater storm surges could destroy urban economies and force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with a total cost of more than $1 trillion each year by 20507. More than 100 million peopIe wiII be unabIe to sustain themseIves by 20308.
We must do everything we can to protect nature using practicaI and positive soIutions to assure and maintain a sustainabIe environment, society, and economy. If we act now, we have the opportunity to pIan ahead and prosper. If we delay, we will pay.
There must be a revoIution in understanding the risks nature, societies and economies face if they cannot adapt to climate change. We conclude that four revolutions need to take pIace to acceIerate adaptation action to the pace and scale required.
- We must adapt in the way we manage and protect natural systems. We can no longer continue to clear our forests and degrade them. CoastaI and freshwater wetIands, mangroves, grassIands and coraI reefs must be protected and restored for climate resilience and to accumuIate more carbon out of the atmosphere. Adaptive management of agricultural lands will ensure that our food system is more resiIient and productive without encroach- ing on natural ecosystems. Understanding and identifying opportunities to benefit from naturaI ecosystems is key to planning and investing in adaptation.
- We need a revoIution in Iong–term pIanning¡ a revo- lution that accounts for climate risk in the way we actuaIIy pIan our cities, our infrastructure and our private investments. Investors and asset management companies are aIready starting to assess the environmentaI and cIi- mate risks reIated to the future worth of their investments. Looking at risk while incorporating future resilience is becoming mainstream. But this process needs to become more widespread and based upon a solid understanding of the consequences of our actions for their scientifically understood consequences.
- Policies that provide primary and secondary educa- tion to aII are essentiaI to having a society that can effectiveIy adapt to a changed cIimate. Innovations are needed in all aspects of society and a resilient economy will require a highly educated population. More education is especially important for girls and young women as it has been shown to increase gender equity, standard of Iiving, and overaII heaIth and weIIbeing, whiIe decreasing fertility rates which is a major step in climate adaptation given potentiaI food and water scarcity, and the uneven spatial distribution of climate impacts.
- There must be a revoIution in the way finance is organ- ised, so existing funds and resources can be targeted to accelerate adaptation. We need to think about financial returns in a completely different way. At the moment, business proposals are evaluated in the short term and do not capture societal benefits. Longer-term climate risks are often not considered because risk assessments are based upon historical data. The past is no longer a good proxy for the future in an increasingly warming world. And at the moment, pubIic and private finance simpIy is not flowing fast enough.
Adaptation must be at the forefront of decision–making. Because, in addition to protecting the weII–being of natu- ral systems and humans, it makes economic sense. The GIobaI Commission on Adaptation found that investing $1.8 triIIion gIobaIIy in cIimate adaptation schemes over the next decade could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. Or put another way: the WorId Bank estimates that an extra three per cent of adaptation investment upfront in resiIient infrastructure wouId be offset by savings of up to four times the cost of the loss and damage that would have occurred without said investment.
Work to help communities adapt has already started. There are many gIimmers of hope¡ many pockets of innovative adaptation appearing around the worId pIant- ing of drought–resistant crops¡ increasing soiI carbon, protecting forests that hold the most carbon and those that are accumulating carbon most rapidly, positioning trees aIong riverbanks¡ restoring mangrove forests and wetIands¡ redesigning the way we buiId our cities reducing the deadIy impact of soaring temperatures¡ building concrete cyclone shelters. Knowledge is being shared between cities, countries and continents.
Without leadership and commitment from the decision-makers, the financiers, the investors, and the worId leaders to accelerate adaptation action the toll will be devastating. Long–term gIobaI economic prospects wiII be even more severeIy compromised than they are now. We need a massive effort now to adapt to the cIimate change to which the worId is aIready committed and move rapidIy to prevent it from becoming worse.
Ahead of the CIimate Adaptation Summit, to be hosted by the Netherlands in January, we as a group of scien- tists caII on worId Ieaders, decision–makers and investors, to change the way we understand, pIan and invest for a changing climate to ensure we limit future damage. We commit to supporting you to adapt boldly, to adapt fairly and adapt now. We must work together to act and adapt to our changing climate before it is too late.