Building Resilience to Climate Change Requires Investment in Nature

Last December, the world’s diplomats achieved consensus on the Paris climate agreement and delivered a thrill of hope that limiting global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—the internationally agreed threshold for avoiding the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change—might still be possible. However, the agreement acknowledges that international collaboration and finance is essential to help developing and climate-vulnerable countries adapt to the profound changes in the planet’s physical system that have already been unleashed by greenhouse gas pollution from deforestation, fossil fuel burning, and other human activities over the past 100 years.

While a substantial gap persists between global need and the scale of mobilized resilience finance, there is no doubt that donor countries are increasingly recognizing the importance of investing in adaptation to climate change. Perhaps the most prominent new mechanism for public resilience and adaptation funding is the Green Climate Fund, or GCF, which is supported by a diverse group of 42 countries and counting that have collectively pledged more than $10 billion toward the fund’s capitalization. Although multilateral climate funding to date has predominantly invested in emissions mitigation measures, the GCF is dedicated to supporting mitigation and adaptation evenly over time. Similarly, the Paris agreement itself advises countries to strive for a balance between mitigation and adaptation funding. The United States, for its part, announced during the Paris summit that it will double its grant-based adaptation finance by 2020.

It is increasingly important that as investments in resilience finance grow, major stakeholders—including climate-vulnerable countries, donor countries, and international financial institutions—collaboratively articulate and prioritize vulnerable- and low-income countries’ climate adaptation needs. To date, public finance for adaptation has largely been allocated toward constructed infrastructure, such as coastal armoring, agriculture, and systems for water delivery, wastewater management, and energy supply. These investment sectors reflect important vulnerabilities for human survival and well-being in the context of the major impacts anticipated from climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme fluctuations in precipitation. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 forecast of climate change impacts in Asia identified water scarcity as a “major challenge,” predicted declines in agricultural productivity for major crops, and found it “likely that mean sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme coastal high water levels.”

John Atherton