Water sector in top four areas for adaptation finance need: UNEP 2021 Adaptation Gap Report

Energy & Climate Change, Flooding, Management & Regulation, Natural Environment, Water Resources

Gathering Storm – the two words that end the name of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) sixth edition of the Adaptation Gap Report say it all.

Among its key messages is a familiar narrative at COP26 this week, that current climate finance models are woefully inadequate for meeting the huge task of climate change adaptation, something highlighted by both Fiji’s climate and economy minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh, Prof Saleemul Huq.

'Of major concern' says the report is the fact that just 26 per cent of countries have monitoring and evaluation systems in place for national-level adaptation planning, finance and implementation, though another 36 per cent of countries are developing one.

Anne Olhoff, UNEP DTU Partnership head of Strategy, Climate Planning and Policy also outlined that three quarters of adaptation finance needs relate to four sectors: agriculture, infrastructure, water and disaster risk management. And while there appeared to be an uptick in climate finance for adaptation in 2019 "there are signs that these are stabilising or even declining in the wake of Covid-19".

She also revealed that "only a very small portion" of the US$16.7 trillion that has been allocated globally for fiscal recovery and rescue measures has targeted adaptation.

The good news? The implementation of adaptation actions across the globe is growing, including in the scale and scope of climate finance for adaptation, albeit slowly. When broken down the spread of adaptation projects include the following areas:

  • About 20 per cent of the projects primarily address the agricultural sector
  • 20 per cent focus on ecosystems
  • Almost 30 per cent on multi-sectoral projects
  • Two projects out of ten were directed towards either water or infrastructure

Further figures from the report also revealed that almost 80 per cent of all countries have at least one national level adaptation instrument in place.

But warns Anne Olhoff UNEP DTU Partnership head of Strategy, Climate Planning and Policy that despite the above "adaptation can reduce climate risks, but it cannot eliminate them". This is why the world can't rest on its laurels and "it's imperative to mitigate strongly to keep the risks and impacts manageable and it's equally critical to up ambition on adaptation to keep existing and future adaptation gaps from widening".

While much of the talk in the report was global, in a live presentation of the report at COP26 Alok Sharma also spoke about the need for locally-led adaptation initiatives and UNEP executive director Inger Andersen brought the focus back to creating future-proof cities and future-proof coastlines.

Andersen argued that the effects of climate change had now reached "biblical proportions" and there was an urgent need to invest in adaptation measures including water storage investment, crop adaptation and more, otherwise we will face the stark 'adapt or move' reality.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) deputy executive secretary Ovais Sarmad also spoke about flood mitigation and argued that upstream action, including early-warning systems, was key as well as the need to re-engage insurers who have moved away from supporting low-lying areas of the world.

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