/ 3 November 2023

UN report: Funding gap for adaptation much wider than anticipated

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Firefighters battle a blaze on Signal Hill in Cape Town. Wildfires are likely to become frequent. Photo: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images

Many developing countries will continue to bear the brunt of climate change-related disaster costs, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

The report, released on Thursday, found that financing for climate-related disasters has stopped flowing and that there is a gap of about 50% higher than estimated.

“Over the last two decades, the 55 most climate-vulnerable countries have seen damages worth more than $500 billion, an amount that will only increase in future without adequate support,” it said.

The report estimates a need of $194 billion to $366 billion annually, which, if not met by developed countries, will lead to huge loss and damage for the world’s most vulnerable economies.

“If $16 billion was invested each year in agriculture, for example, it would save around 78 million people from starving or chronic hunger because of climate impacts, with funding coming from public and private finances,” the UN said.

More than 30 heads of state will meet to discuss climate change and issues such as the financial burden felt by developing countries at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 30 November to 12 December.

The conferences align with the Paris Agreement,  an international treaty that aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The agreement also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with climate change.

In 2009 at the UN summit in Copenhagen, wealthy countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing nations to help them address costs related to natural disasters and adapt to rising temperatures and sea levels. But wealthy countries have not been able to meet the target.

The report added that climate-related costs will rise steeply in the coming decades, particularly without mitigation and adaptation plans in place and implemented.

Last week, Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, addressing the national stakeholder consultations ahead of COP28, said South Africa will continue to push for clear targets for adaptation and resilience to climate change.

“As with all COPs, the question of finance is going to remain very central to the agenda. What we are going to see is renewed pressure from developing countries that historical pledges by developed countries must be met,” she said.

“We are saying that just as you have clear targets for reducing emissions, the world must have clear targets for building climate resilience. We are arguing for 50% resilience by 2030 and 90% by 2050,” Creecy said.

At COP27, in Egypt, last year, South Africa’s delegation, together with the African continent, put forward a proposal to include the unique needs and circumstances of the continent on the conference agenda, but this did not enjoy consensus, she said. 

COP28 will also see discussions about establishing a loss and damage fund, which will allow nations most vulnerable to the severe effect of climate change to have access to funding. But the details of how the fund will work and who will benefit will only take place during the conference.

“Exactly how it will be financed, where the finance will come from, what the form of finance will be, who will qualify to receive that financial support — those are issues that will still be important agenda items at COP28,” said Creecy.

During Africa Climate Week in Kenya earlier this year, many African leaders called on wealthy countries to honour their pledges because extreme weather and disruption from drought, flooding, and conflicts over natural resources disproportionately affect developing countries.

A World Meteorological Organisation report in September said that Africa is responsible for less than 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But it is the continent which is the least able to cope with the harm caused by climate change. 

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana on Wednesday announced that he was adding funds to the municipal disaster relief and recovery grants to mitigate the effects of climate change.  

“In this regard, R372 million has been added to the Municipal Disaster Response Grant, while R1.2 billion has been added to cover the repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure damaged by flooding in February and March 2023,” Godongwana said.

“Mitigating the environmental risks posed by climate change must go hand in hand with addressing the financial and economic risks also posed by climate change. The national treasury is making progress towards developing a disaster risk financing strategy, which will among others, enhance existing risk financing instruments.”  

Municipal disaster relief and recovery grants were introduced in 2011 and 2013, respectively, for municipalities to respond to infrastructure damage and to disperse relief funds. 

Speaking during the UNEP report launch on Thursday, Eindhoven University of Technology author Pieter Pauw said that while financing for mitigation projects such as renewable energy has increased, mobilising adaptation funds has proven difficult.

“The numbers are not that big: if you compare the $100 billion to the money that the United States spends on its military, and that was spent on Covid or to save its banks, this is peanuts,” said Pauw. “We have a world to win here … It is time for developed countries to step up and provide more.”

The report identifies seven ways to increase financing, including domestic expenditure and international and private sector finance. 

UNEP’s executive director, Inger Andersen, said that in 2023, weather events became more disruptive and deadly. Temperature records toppled, while storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires caused devastation.

“These intensifying impacts tell us that the world must urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable populations. Neither is happening.”

Andersen said that even if the international community were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases today, climate disruption would take decades to dissipate.

The UNEP said investing in climate adaptation reduces costs further down the line, with every billion invested in coastal flooding preventing $14 billion of economic damage.

Last week, during a media briefing, Maesela Kekana, South Africa’s chief negotiator on climate change, said adaptation is a key priority not only for South Africa but for the African continent.

“We are busy working under the Glasgow-Sharm El-Sheik work programme on the global goal for adaptation, and we want to see tangible outcomes.”

“We do not have a target, believe it or not, for adaptation or adapting to these impacts of climate change. We do not have agreed indicators, so that will be a big task for us during the COP.”