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Climate impacts growing much faster than efforts to adapt to them, UN finds

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The costs for poorer countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change are around five to 10 times higher than current financial flows, and the gap is widening, a UN report said on Thursday, calling for a dramatic scale-up in financial aid.

These photos from 2020 and 2021 show a burning tree in Sequoia National Forest, Calif.; Nathan Fabre, whose home and boat were destroyed by Hurricane Ida in Lafitte, La.; and the cracked, dry bottom of the Cerro Lagoon during an extended drought in Limpio, Paraguay. Climate change is fuelling heat waves, flooding, drought and nastier tropical cyclones, and a new UN report says the growth in climate impacts outpaces our efforts to adapt to them.(Noah Berger, John Locher, Jorge Saenz/The Associated Press)


The costs for poorer countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change are around five to 10 times higher than current financial flows, and the gap is widening, a UN report said on Thursday, calling for a dramatic scale-up in financial aid.

The report by the United Nations Environment Program named The Gathering Storm was released to coincide with the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. It warns that the growth in climate impacts is far outpacing our efforts to adapt to them.

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It urges a focus on preparing for more extreme climate scenarios to reduce loss and damage, with the impacts of climate change such as floods and storms set to accelerate later this century irrespective of what we do to cut emissions now.

"Even as we look to step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions — efforts that are still not anywhere strong enough — we must dramatically up our game to adapt," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, in the report's foreword.

Examples of adaptation projects include shoring up river banks against more severe floods or restoring coral reefs and mangroves to absorb waves from hurricanes.

A girl walks home from school after waiting for low tide when the road is visible in Pratap Nagar, in Shyamnagar region of Satkhira district, Bangladesh, on Oct. 5, 2021. The effects of global warming, particularly increased cyclones, coastal and tidal flooding that bring saltwater further inland, are devastating Bangladesh and destroying the livelihoods of millions.(Mahmud Hossain Opu/The Associated Press)

Finance is a theme of the conference. African leaders reproached wealthier countries responsible for most past carbon emissions for failing to keep a pledge to provide $100 billion US a year.

The report estimates that adaptation costs for developing countries will likely be in the higher end of a range between $140-300 billion US a year by 2030 and $280-500 billion US a year by 2050.

However, it warns that adaptation finance flows are projected to stabilize or possibly even decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as governments and institutions divert resources to meet urgent health needs.

It also said that only a small portion of the $16.7 trillion US COVID-19 fiscal stimulus has targeted climate adaptation, calling it a missed opportunity.

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