UN secretary-general António Guterres. Picture: REUTERS
UN secretary-general António Guterres. Picture: REUTERS

Barcelona — The UN secretary-general has called for a breakthrough to help poorer countries adapt to a hotter world where “apocalyptic” fires and floods are becoming “the new normal”.

In a speech titled “The State of the Planet”, António Guterres said there was a moral and economic case for giving more support to developing countries to deal with climate change effects, rather than focusing investment mostly on cutting emissions.

“We are in a race against time to adapt to a rapidly changing climate,” he said at New York’s Columbia University. “We must deliver a breakthrough on adaptation to protect the world — and especially the most vulnerable people and countries — from climate effects.”

Guterres said helping developing countries cope with unprecedented climate extremes “must not be the forgotten component of climate action”.

Large-scale, preventative support for adaptation was “especially urgent for small island developing states, which face an existential threat”, he said.

Measures needed include early warning systems to keep people safe from disasters, more robust infrastructure, improving dry-land farming to help crops survive drought, and protecting coastal mangroves, which act as a buffer against storm surges.

Those and other steps “can give the world a double dividend: avoiding future losses and generating economic gains and other benefits”, Guterres said.

He cited a study from the Global Commission on Adaptation, a high-level panel of experts, which found that every $1 invested in adaptation measures could yield almost $4 in benefits.

The problem, Guterres said, is that funding for adaptation and resilience efforts remains far below what is needed. Of the finance being channeled by wealthy countries to help poorer nations tackle climate change, adaptation accounts for only about 20%, averaging about $30bn per year in 2017/2018.

Most of the rest is spent on reducing climate-heating emissions, such as by adopting renewable energy. “This hinders our essential work for disaster risk reduction. It also isn’t smart,” Guterres said.

The commission has estimated that $180bn will be needed annually until 2030 for effective adaptation.

Guterres urged donor governments and development banks to commit to boost their share of funding for adaptation and resilience to at least 50% of their climate finance support by next November’s COP26 UN climate summit.

Britain, which is hosting the talks in Glasgow, is planning to launch a “race to resilience” — and will announce more details at an event marking the five years since the Paris Agreement was adopted on December 12.

The push will echo the UN-backed “race to zero” campaign to rally governments, companies and other organisations to cut their planet-heating emissions to net-zero by 2050 or earlier.

“The race to resilience is as important as the race to net-zero,” said Guterres.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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