The Emissions Gap Report 2022 finds that the world must cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent to avoid global catastrophe. Solutions to transform societies exist, but the time for collective, multilateral action is now. Every fraction of a degree matters.
The world is changing, and so is the climate. Climate change is a threat multiplier that exacerbates existing risks and creates new ones. The effects of climate change are being felt by people all over the world, but the impacts are different. As the world warms, we see more extreme weather events, such as more frequent and intense heat waves, floods, and hurricanes. These events have devastating impacts on communities, economies, and infrastructure. And yet, the vast majority of climate finance is still being spent on mitigation – efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – rather than adaptation – essential efforts to reduce the risks posed by climate change.
The difference between climate adaptation and mitigation
Climate adaptation is about preparing for and managing the effects of climate change. It includes actions taken to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms.
Mitigation, on the other hand, refers to actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of climate change. This might involve using cleaner energy sources, improving energy efficiency or planting trees.
While mitigation is essential, many experts believe that adaptation should be the focus when it comes to climate investment. This is because the effects of climate change are already being felt worldwide, and they will only worsen in the future. By investing in adaptation now, we can help communities deal with the impacts of climate change and prevent them from becoming even more damaging.
The case for investing in climate adaptation
It is increasingly accepted that climate change is a reality and that human activity is a significant driver. This has led to a growing focus on climate mitigation – measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of global warming.
However, an equally important case is to be made for investing in climate adaptation. Even if we successfully mitigate climate change, we are already facing significant impacts from the changing climate. These impacts will only become more severe as global temperatures rise.
Climate adaptation measures are designed to help us cope with these impacts, making us more resilient to the changes that are already underway. By investing in adaptation now, we can avoid or minimise the costly consequences of inaction.
There is a robust economic case for investment in adaptation. A report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that every $1 spent on high-quality adaptation could save up to $7 in damages avoided.
Investing in adaptation also makes sense from a risk management perspective. As climate risks increase, so does the cost of insuring against them. Adapting to the changing climate can reduce our exposure to these risks and lower our insurance premiums.
In short, there is a compelling case for investing in both mitigation and adaptation measures to address the challenges of climate change. Mitigation alone will not be enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming, and adaptation will become increasingly important as the impacts of climate change intensify.
Why climate mitigation has been the focus in the past
In the past, climate change was seen as an issue that would largely be solved through mitigation efforts – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow down or stop the warming process. This made sense at the time because we didn't know much about climate change and its potential impacts.
However, over the last few decades, our understanding of climate change has grown exponentially. We now know that it is happening faster than we thought and that its impacts will be far more severe than anticipated. In light of this new information, adaptation – preparing for and coping with the effects of climate change – has become a much more critical focus.
There are several reasons for this shift in focus:
1) Mitigation alone cannot stop all the damaging effects of climate change – we need to adapt to what's already happening and what is inevitable.
2) Many of the most vulnerable people and communities around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change, so we need to start helping them now. The flood in Pakistan in August 2022, that killed 1500, and displaced 30m was an example of this. The massive rise in dengue fever cases is another.
3) Some impacts of climate change, like sea level rise, are irreversible, so we need to prepare for them rather than trying to prevent them.
4) In some cases, mitigation efforts can make adaptation more difficult or even impossible (for example, if they lead to food shortages).
How climate change will impact different sectors
Climate change is already having different impacts on different sectors.
Agriculture, for example, is expected to be impacted by changes in precipitation patterns, temperatures, and extreme weather events.
The forestry sector is expected to be impacted by changes in the range and distribution of tree species and the frequency and intensity of fires.
The tourism sector is expected to be impacted by changes in the availability of water resources and the timing and duration of the tourist season.
There are several reasons why climate investment focuses on adaptation rather than mitigation. Firstly, adaptation is typically more cost-effective than mitigation, as it can be tailored to specific regions and doesn't require large-scale changes. Secondly, adaptation measures tend to have co-benefits that outweigh the costs, whereas mitigation measures often do not. Finally, adaptation can be implemented much faster than mitigation, meaning we can start seeing results sooner. For all these reasons, it makes sense to focus our climate investment on adaptation rather than mitigation. The time is now.
-As the General Partner of R3i Capital, I have the opportunity to work with the world's most disruptive pioneers transforming the planet for impact. Follow me on LinkedIn, add me to your Twitter @leesasoulodre or collaborate with us at www.r3icapital.com