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UN Stresses Adaptation Funding as Frequency of Global Climate Disasters Hits One Per Week

SuSanA-Secretariat/Wikimedia Commons

The frequency of major climate disasters has reached one per week around the world, a top United Nations official warns, in a new report that calls for developing countries to prepare now for the “profound impact” they will continue to face.

“This is not about the future, this is about today,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction. Part of the problem is that, apart from high-profile events like the twin cyclones [1] that hit Mozambique [2] and the killer drought [3] in India [4], most of the “lower-impact events” causing death, displacement, and suffering around the world generate few headlines—even though their frequency is growing much faster than scientists predicted.

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“Estimates put the cost of climate-related disasters at US$520 billion a year, while the additional cost of building infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of global heating is only about 3%, or $2.7 trillion in total over the next 20 years,” The Guardian notes. Compared to the scale of other infrastructure spending, “this is not a lot of money,” Mizutori said, “but investors have not been doing enough. Resilience needs to become a commodity that people will pay for.” 

That would entail “normalizing the standards for new infrastructure, such as housing, road and rail networks, factories, power and water supply networks, so that they were less vulnerable to the effects of floods, droughts, storms, and extreme weather,” The Guardian adds.

The job of adapting to the impacts of climate change, as distinct from “mitigation” efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has long received less emphasis and financial support in the response to the climate crisis, notes Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey. That’s in part “because activists and scientists were concerned for years that people would gain a false complacency that we need not cut emissions as we could adapt to the effects instead, and also because while cutting emissions could be clearly measured, the question of adapting or increasing resilience was harder to pin down.”

Mizutori told The Guardian the time for that argument has run out. “We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this we will not survive,” she said. “We need to look at the risks of not investing in resilience.” She said priority should go to natural climate solutions [6] like mangrove swamps, forests, and wetlands that can serve as natural barriers to flooding.

“A further key problem is how to protect people in informal settlements, or slums, which are more vulnerable than planned cities,” The Guardian adds. “The most vulnerable people are the poor, women, children, the elderly, the disabled and displaced, and many of these people live in informal settlements without access to basic amenities.”