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Responsibility, Resilience and global reach
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a worldwide strategic approach to tackling poverty is essential, says Patrick Verkooijen, CEO, Global Center on Adaptation
Patrick Verkooijen, CEO, Global Center on Adaptation: (GCA)
As published in the 02/2020 issue of the OPEC Fund Quarterly
OPEC Fund Quarterly: What are the current priorities (if it is possible to generalize) for developing countries adapting to climate change?
Patrick Verkooijen: Around the world, governments are launching gigantic stimulus packages to prop up their economies during the COVID-19 pandemic. But these are being targeted exclusively at their own people and nothing is being set aside to help those who need it the most. It is also clear that to avert disaster, countries will need to help each other. If the virus is a shared challenge, so too should be the need to build resilience against future shocks.
Emerging and developing countries are the least prepared for the arrival of COVID-19, just as they are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Already today, many countries have to deal with the negative consequences of human-induced climate change. There’s a clear observed and attributed pattern of increased droughts and more frequent and longer heat waves, coral bleaching and die-back, melting mountain glaciers and so on. These and other problems are virtually certain to grow rapidly over the next decades and so it is urgent we adapt and prepare everyone to avoid the worst consequences of further global warming.
The adaptation challenge is highly diverse between countries, but also within countries and differs across locations, sectors and communities. Still, many common challenges exist and hence lessons can be learned and transferred, and solutions can be reproduced or scaled up. The highest priorities are those where addressing current climate hazards and development
intersect. If communities are already suffering from droughts that are expected to intensify over the next decades then clearly that is an area of high priority.
The solutions are then found in the direction of synergies and complementarities between investments and funding streams that address both current development priorities and adaptation efforts that limit the adverse effects of further climate changes. From a donor perspective it may matter if a particular investment, program, or project is solving a development challenge, or a climate-change adaptation challenge. However, on the ground the implementation challenges are often the same: how to mobilize finance flows and how to reach communities with the largest and most enduring solutions.
If we’re talking about current priorities, of course the current COVID-19 poses a huge challenge to economies and communities globally. There is a risk that the associated global economic and financial crisis increases poverty and vulnerabilities in developing countries. Looking ahead a little bit, if the immediate emergency dissipates, we hope communities and economies can be supported in adaptation to be more resilient to both future disasters like today’s pandemic and the adverse effects of climate changes.
OFQ: Do these priorities differ by region?
PV: Overall, climate change is making our world less equal. It is reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty. And as the global youth climate movement has said loud and clear, it is also introducing profound inequalities between generations. A report by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) estimates that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty over the next decade as a result of the consequences of global warming. That poor countries are shouldering the heaviest costs of climate change, when they have done the least to cause it, is a stain on our collective morals. We must do everything in our power to prevent this profound injustice.
At the GCA, we work hard to strengthen global knowledge for prioritization with the highest urgency. First, there are very different effects of global warming on local conditions. To mention just a few examples of how different the challenges and therefore the solutions are, consider:
a. More frequent and longer heat waves, including for regions already very warm, such as the Arabian peninsula and the Sahel region.
b. Sea-level rise for Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean, South Pacific, Indian Ocean and near the coast of West Africa, as well as the densely populated coastal cities in Asia like Kolkata, Dhaka, Guanzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Jakarta and many others, but also Lagos and Alexandria.
c. Melting mountain glaciers across the Himalaya, Andes and Central Asia regions.
d. Increased flooding risk due to higher-intensity tropical storms across the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
Next, countries are in a highly diverse state concerning the enabling environment for adaptation. There are huge differences in awareness of expected climate change, knowledge and technical capacity, investment opportunities, income levels, etc. All of that combines to very different overall capacity to tackle the issue of climate change adaptation, if one compares, for example, a drought-stricken Least Developed Country like Mali with low-lying coastal areas of China, or the mountain communities in Nepal with those in Chile.
OFQ: How can the international community / development institutions such as the OPEC Fund best help in the short and longer terms?
PV: Overall, countries and the private sector need support in being better prepared with more precise understanding of the challenges and solutions. Knowledge and technology transfer must be facilitated between developed and developing countries, but certainly also between developing countries that despite differences in conditions and challenges have many commonalities as well. While some of that will benefit from knowledge development in the long-term, much is already available and must be synthesized and disseminated more broadly right now. Also, planning processes and institutional capacity can be supported in countries to better link understanding and knowledge to policy and planning processes. Finally, finance flows and readiness need urgent support, so that institutions are better prepared to facilitate investments reaching vulnerable communities and sectors.
The GCA estimates that investing just US$1.8 trillion in building resilience against climate change over the next decade could generate US$7.1 trillion in total net benefits. Investment in green technology and resilient infrastructure could help put our coronavirus-shattered world back together again. Renewable energy instead of coal; natural drainage systems instead of more concrete to soak up water and avert floods; reforestation instead of land clearances.
OFQ: What’s the biggest obstacle to successful mitigation / adaptation?
PV: We need more resources, more collaboration and more political will to make adaptation a global priority. At the GCA, we believe ambitious mitigation is the best form of adaptation. But even if we reduce emissions to reach the Paris Agreement goals, we will still be living with the impacts of climate change for the next hundred years. There needs to be a greater understanding that adaptation is not a defeat, but a defence against what is already happening.
Obstacles can differ between countries. The enabling environment of knowledge/awareness, planning and finance means that a country may have access to finance, but a high need for better understanding of the challenges to make a convincing case for the investments or other international finance that is in principle available.
In other cases, it is very clear what should be done to avoid the worst effects of global warming, but institutional capacity for implementation is limited and attracting international finance is obstructed by difficulty in meeting international fiduciary standards on staffing, expertise, experience and internal controls that are required for access to international finance.
OFQ: How optimistic are you for the future?
PV: It’s clear we need a very strong international push on all fronts to really make progress in adaptation. Much of the future damage of climate change can still be avoided by successful mitigation and adaptation, even if some ecosystems will be lost. We need to make sure that progress in adaptation starts moving at a pace faster than continuing global warming. I’m cautiously optimistic this should be possible. The COVID-19 pandemic shows us that as individuals and as communities, we have a choice in how to respond to global threats. For the greater good, we can accept restrictions on how we live, even at a cost to incomes and livelihoods – as 20 percent of the global population is doing right now – or we can respond selfishly, seeking only what is right for us, rather than the collective good of humanity.
These choices will be equally important once COVID-19 is tamed. Because what should be clear is that other threats, such as our climate emergency, have not gone away during the present pandemic. The GCA will do its utter best to facilitate progress in adaptation so that in many countries the most adverse consequences of global warming can be avoided, and the incredible global diversity of societies, cultures, livelihoods, economies and communities can be preserved.
OPEC Fund Quarterly lead feature