Why COP27 needs to shine a spotlight on climate change adaptation

By on 10/11/2022 | Updated on 10/11/2022
Men wade through flood water in Pakistan
Extreme weather events – such as flooding in Pakistan –are becoming more common around the world. Photo by Kafeel Ahmed via Pexels

Governments have tended to focus on cutting carbon emissions when formulating their climate change plans and policies. But with more frequent, more severe weather events blighting the globe – causing loss of life, destroying livelihoods, wiping out ecosystems and damaging economies – the need to adapt to climate impacts becomes crystal clear.

The COP27 Egyptian presidency is putting adaptation front and centre, calling for nations to demonstrate the political will to enhance resilience and assist the countries and communities most vulnerable to climate change.

At a Global Government Forum webinar held last month – one of several leading up to COP – public sector climate experts from Bangladesh, the UN, the EU and the UK discussed:

  • The urgent need for governments to raise their adaptation ambition.
  • Helping developing nations most at risk of climate impacts through the creation of substantial finance packages – and putting in place effective accountability mechanisms to ensure what is promised is delivered.
  • The importance of multi-level governance in effecting real change.
  • And why countries that exclude those who deal with the day-to-day impacts of climate change from the policy development process do so at their peril.

Read more:
COP27: how finance ministries are working to net zero – but ‘missed a trick’ on COVID-19 response
How can governments turn COP27 climate change ambition into action?
Keeping up with COP: how can countries measure progress to net zero?

Here, we present snippets of the conversation with the accompanying clips from the webinar.  

In her opening remarks, Elena Višnar Malinovská, head of unit, climate adaptation & resilience at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, emphasised that the extreme weather events much of the world saw this summer were neither unexpected nor unusual and that natural disasters have risen 150% since the 1970s. Now in Europe, losses attributed to climate change average around €12bn a year.

Malinovská said that though Europe aims to become a climate neutral region by 2050, it is increasingly clear that adaptation is imperative. She explained what the European Union is doing in this area, including putting in place a strategic framework that establishes a duty to adapt in line with Paris Agreement goals, and developing the first major EU climate risk assessment. She also spoke of the need to scale up finance for innovation – in nature-based solutions, for example; to expedite progress towards renewables and clean energy; to ensure climate change is a consideration in infrastructure project funding; and to gather and share data to help track progress.

Md. Nazrul Islam, ambassador, Embassy of Bangladesh to Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Burundi and permanent representative to the African Union and the UN-Economic Commission for Africa, spoke about Bangladesh’s acute vulnerability to climate change. The country is blighted by floods, cyclones, drought, desertification, riverbank erosion and salinity, and three quarters of its population live in environmentally unstable areas. The World Bank estimates that unless things change, Bangladesh may lose 9% of its GDP by 2050 due to climate impacts.

Islam went on to explain what Bangladesh is doing to tackle climate change, from solar powering homes, distributing sustainable cooking stoves, and building towns to accommodate climate refugees from other countries, to its Delta Plan 2100 – a long-term vision focusing on economic growth, environmental conservation and enhanced climate resilience. Though, with the country contributing only 5% to its total domestic pollution, it is reliant on other countries to make change.

Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, director, intergovernmental support and collective progress division, United Nations Climate Change (UNFCCC), said adaptation success depends on mitigation and on how we address loss and damage. She said countries need to raise their ambition, strengthen national adaptation plans, set milestones and timelines for those plans and ready them for implementation.

She added that national governments must participate in a collaborative and consultative manner because “adaptation responses are transboundary”, and touched on the importance of placing biodiversity at the centre of adaptation; the need to include indigenous peoples, youth and women and measure equity and justice in the context of climate risks and action; and limitations around technological development and transfer, risk assessment, institutional governance weaknesses, and policy constraints.

Liz Parkes, deputy director of climate change & business services at the UK Environment Agency said that while she feels “the science has been screaming at us” for a long time, the scale and pace of climate impacts and the reporting of them is only now starting to get through to people. “It’s not remote and distant and far off and uncertain. I’m afraid it is all too certain. It’s here, it’s now, we’re already locked into dangerous climate change with more to come. But sadly, that urgency isn’t matched by urgency of action and response.”

She added that many countries don’t seem to be able to assimilate the need to prevent climate change with the need to be better prepared for it – “they don’t want to talk about adapting because it feels like a defeatist agenda” – and that the UK is one of those to have slipped back in this area in the last five years.

What she believes will make a difference in forwarding the adaptation agenda is to put figures against it and to monetise it, to show the economic case for preparing for as well as preventing climate change, and to focus not just on what we stand to lose in the fight against climate change but on what we stand to gain.

She pointed out that people are “so often missing from visuals and narratives” around climate change and that painting a picture of what it would look and feel like to live in a well-adapted place could be a powerful tool in bringing people along on the journey.

In response to a question about whether adaptation is being neglected as increasingly cash-strapped governments face other crises such as the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, Malinovská said that often countries don’t need huge amounts of money for adaptation but good public administration models and the right people in charge to affect change.

Islam and Kinuthia-Njenga emphasised that, in terms of financing, developing countries need to be able to trust that when developed nations agree a certain sum that will go to developing countries to help with their climate change adaptation at forums such as COP, they will actually deliver.

Parkes raised the point that we will end up spending money on dealing with climate impacts, the question is whether it is spent in a planned way, upfront, or whether we spend it after the event “which is always suboptimal”.

Kinuthia-Njenga moved on to talk about her belief that technology transfer is one of the biggest gaps when it comes to support for developing countries. “Whether we are talking about communities that are in distress that need access to clean, safe water or ensuring they can get out of collapsed buildings, we need a pipeline system where technology can be easily transferred to the countries that are in need, in a timely and affordable manner,” she said.

She also touched on governments’ needs to build capacity so that people have the necessary knowledge and skills to implement climate action initiatives on the way to net zero, and said that linked to this, proper institutional systems would need to be in place at national and sub-national levels to ensure linkages could be leveraged.

On the issue of accountability, Islam said that an effective, transparent system that monitored countries’ activities and contributions would go some way towards ensuring that governments deliver on their pledges and would help to restore confidence in the appetite for climate action internationally.

Parkes added to this by raising a point about governance. She said that climate risks are complex and there are interdependencies between them across sectors and geographies but that they can’t be solved “just by getting everyone in the room”. What is needed, she said, is to identify the risks and to decide who owns those risks. “Is it public? Is it private? Is it national? Is it local?” Whichever it is, she said there needs to be one person who takes responsibility. Yes, there will be a number of parties that need to take action to mitigate “but you have one single risk owner. I think that’s the only way to work your way through these issues”.

Malinovská said that there is a need for multi-level governance and that everyone needs to pull together as a team but that this is particularly complicated in somewhere like Europe where each country has a different model that is rooted in history. For example, in Ireland there is national government and there are municipalities whereas in the Netherlands, there are also regions, provinces and water boards that oversee water policies. She put forward what she described as a “provocative” question: Is there a need to pull a major historical effort to reorganise societies in a way that would better enable the world to respond to such a huge challenge as climate change?

Another discussion during the webinar focused on the need for the private sector, academia, communities, interest groups and other stakeholders to be involved in the development of climate change policy. Here, Islam was positive about stakeholders’ willingness to contribute as long as governments worked to facilitate such contributions.

Kinuthia-Njenga said there are complex barriers that exist for developing countries around institutionalising adaptation and truly embedding it into decision-making – not least limited data availability, which makes modelling risks extremely difficult.

And she ended the webinar with a word on inclusion. She said multi-level governance is important, highlighting countries that had established inter-ministerial steering committees and South Africa, which has a presidential unit that looks at the issues of climate change, as examples of what could be done.  

However, she said that indigenous peoples, women’s organisations, youth – those that are dealing with the day-to-day challenges posed by climate change at the local level – did not have the opportunity to participate in the formulation of national adaptation plans or implementation.  

“They are not empowered to participate, mainly because our government structures are not geared towards what we’re calling ‘cooperative governance’. This is the big elephant in the room – how can we truly say that we have achieved multi-level governance unless indigenous peoples, women and youth are involved in the processes in order for us to address and achieve the ambition we want, whether it be mitigation or adaptation?” she said.

To learn all this and more, you can watch the 75-minute webinar via our dedicated event page. The webinar – hosted by Global Government Forum – was held on 13 October 2022.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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