The Platform

Gerhard Pettersson

The window is closing to truly help mitigate climate change in the developing world.

An African adage asserts, “Equality can’t wait.” This serves as a clarion call to the world’s collective conscience, stressing the immediate need for climate measures that ensure equitable adaptation for everyone. The outcomes of COP28 amplify this urgency, as they inadvertently imposed further delays on the most vulnerable communities in their pursuit of equitable adaptation. The anticipation before the summit was for a unanimous agreement on the methods to bolster global adaptive capacity, under Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement.

Yet, this was not fully realized. The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), initiated by the African Group of Negotiators in 2013 and incorporated into the Paris Agreement in 2015, sought to elevate adaptation to the same level of priority as mitigation, specifically in terms of finance and investment. At its inception in 2015, the GGA lacked a definitive framework for implementation, including specific targets and metrics for assessment. COP28 convened eight years later, made progress by establishing global time-bound targets for select sectors and formalizing the adaptation policy process. However, these targets remained unquantified, and crucial financial and other forms of support for the disproportionately vulnerable developing nations were absent.

Consequently, an alarming 3.6 billion individualsover 40% of the global populace, already highly susceptible to climate change’s ramifications such as droughts, floods, storms, heatwaves, and food scarcity—are relegated, yet again, to a standby list. The latest scientific insights, including the 2023 UNEP Emissions Gap Report, indicate a projected global temperature increase of 2.5-2.9°C this century, suggesting that the queue for adaptation will only extend with escalating global temperatures. This stark reality underscores the criticality of swift action.

The financial toll of climate-induced extreme events is staggering, with an estimated global cost of $143 billion, disproportionately borne by the most vulnerable. In 2022, over 110 million people in Africa were impacted by weather and climate-related hazards, inflicting economic losses exceeding $8.5 billion. Since 2020, Africa has incurred annual climate change-related costs between $7 billion and $15 billion, with projections of these expenses soaring to $50 billion yearly within seven years, averaging 7% of the continent’s GDP.

Africa is spotlighted because it is home to 8 of the 10 countries most severely affected by climate change. These ten nations are facing the prospect of GDP reductions exceeding 70% by 2100 under existing global climate policies and a 40% reduction if global warming is limited to the preferred 1.5ºC scenario.

Despite these alarming statistics, adaptation remains overshadowed. A pressing shift in perspective is essential, focusing on two key outcomes. The first is attaining the long-overdue parity in adaptation prioritization, as envisioned by the GGA. The second is ensuring that adaptation efforts worldwide result in equitable and just consequences for all, avoiding instances where one region’s adaptive measures come at the expense of another region.

The realization of justice and equity in adaptation will largely depend on the tangible benefits that adaptation investments yield. Currently, market-driven funds for mitigation dwarf those for adaptation by a factor of 300, primarily attributed to the clearer financial returns of the former. At COP28, UNEP’s “State of Finance for Nature” report revealed a striking disparity: investments harmful to nature outpaced beneficial ones by a factor of 30. The report highlighted that nearly $7 trillion of global GDP was funneled into detrimental sectors, with only about $200 billion directed toward sustainable ventures.

Thus, the most vulnerable regions and countries must craft adaptation policies and programs that present competitive financial returns, thereby shifting investment focus from environmentally harmful to favorable endeavors. Additionally, enhancing economic participation among the most susceptible groups is crucial, enabling them to explore avenues that offer greater financial stability and protection of their earning potential.

A shift in narrative is necessary. Worldwide, climate action is frequently framed through the prism of risk, rather than the lucrative opportunities it presents. For instance, it is estimated that every dollar invested in adaptation measures yields returns ranging from $2 to $10 in sectors such as food production, infrastructure, and water management. Furthermore, each dollar allocated to nature-based solutions can generate up to $30 in economic benefits—a 30-fold return.

In Africa and other developing regions, a commitment of $800 million to nature-based initiatives could result in annual gains of $3 billion to $16 billion. Such investments could, for example, significantly enhance organic fertilizer production, which has the potential to replace up to half of chemical fertilizer usage, expand rapidly growing markets, and simultaneously lower emissions and the risk of pollution that exacerbates health concerns such as antimicrobial resistance.

Additionally, every dollar spent on green infrastructure, highly effective against climate extremes like floods, can produce up to $4 in economic benefits. Urban green infrastructure initiatives, such as forestation, wetland rehabilitation, and mangrove restoration, have proven to be not only six times more cost-effective than traditional engineering solutions but also offer savings of up to $1.5 billion.

Investment in clean energy solutions, particularly in sectors critical to climate adaptation, promises substantial returns. For instance, decentralized solar technologies, such as solar cold storage and solar-powered processing units, can unlock up to $320 billion in new business opportunities for Africa annually, potentially creating a $1 billion industry by 2030.

Promoting these entrepreneurial prospects should be a central element of climate adaptation strategies in the most vulnerable areas, as clearly defined investment opportunities, rather than liabilities, will ultimately bridge implementation gaps. Thus, policy and incentives should be crafted to capitalize on the enterprise opportunities arising from adaptation and broader climate initiatives.

Focus on climate adaptation investment planning is crucial. To date, 177 nations have presented updated climate commitments, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), encompassing both adaptation and mitigation strategies. In 2023, a record number of National Adaptation Plans were submitted to the UNFCCC. While 170 countries now incorporate an adaptation component within their climate strategies, these plans lack comprehensive investment blueprints that detail the potential for climate adaptation investment and the supportive policy, market, and social frameworks.

Countries must urgently project a climate that fosters adaptation-focused enterprises, leveraging the Sustainable Budgeting Approach (SBA) to harmonize socio-economic development with climate goals. This approach involves assessing trade-offs between sustainable and unsustainable practices and allocating fiscal incentives to the most economically viable sustainable options. Data derived from the implementation of investment plans will be invaluable in directing climate incentives toward the most promising growth sectors.

Addressing the accessibility of climate finance is paramount. Often, those in greatest need of enhanced adaptation measures also have the least access to essential financing, due to perceived high risks. Therefore, implementing strategies to reduce the financial risks associated with climate adaptation is a pressing need. Such strategies could include cash guarantees to mitigate payment default risks, capacity building in climate-related enterprises, improved market access for adaptation products and services, and fiscal incentives like tax reductions to lower investment costs in climate solutions.

Prioritizing skills development is another vital step. The creation of human capital capable of engaging in climate adaptation efforts from an entrepreneurial perspective is key to tapping into available opportunities. In sectors like Africa’s agricultural value chain, which faces significant climate-related challenges but holds immense potential for diversification and value addition, targeted training and manpower development is crucial.

Optimizing climate policy incentives for finance is also essential. A notable aspect of COP28 was the postponement of financial discussions, including those on adaptation, to COP29. The forthcoming negotiations are expected to introduce a New Collective Quantitative Goal (NCQG) to supersede the unfulfilled commitment of developed countries to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing nations. Vulnerable countries must incorporate the fiscal impact of their policies into these negotiations to demonstrate their contributions to climate action. Fiscal incentives should be quantified as part of these countries’ unconditional contributions, thus raising the bar in international climate finance discussions.

Enhanced data and monitoring are critical components of effective climate action. Regrettably, less than half of the least-developed countries possess multi-hazard early warning systems. In Africa, home to many of these nations, only 40% of the population has access to such systems. Investing in early warning systems offers substantial returns, with the potential to prevent billions in losses annually. However, a gap exists in translating these warnings into proactive measures.

Current systems primarily address meteorological risks and overlook the broader spectrum of threats, such as biodiversity loss and pollution. A more comprehensive approach to early warning and monitoring is needed, one that not only alerts but also tracks solutions and their investment potential, encouraging actions that mitigate risks. This holistic strategy should encompass community engagement, where early warning systems not only signal potential hazards but also outline accessible solutions, thereby enhancing community resilience and income opportunities.

For those regions most acutely affected by climate change, further delays in achieving just and equitable adaptation are untenable. For these vulnerable communities, the imperative to embark on paths toward fair and balanced adaptation is immediate. The strategies outlined above offer a vital blueprint for initiating this journey, for as the wisdom of carrying water teaches us, every drop counts.

Dr. Richard Munang is a multiple award-winning environment and development policy thought leader and climate change and sustainable development expert. Richard is also author of 'Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism' in 2018.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.