Haboob in Phoenix

Global climate is on track for changes including a greater than 2°C rise in average temperature, and that’s going to result in adaptation costs for developing countries well above the World Bank’s 2°C estimate of $70 billion by 2020 and as much as $100 billion per year by 2050, according to a report produced by ActionAid, Care, GermanWatch and WWF.

Recent estimates show that global average temperature is likely to increase between 4-6°C, which essentially means that humanity, along with all other forms of life, are committed to “permanent and irreversible loss and damage,” the NGOs assert.

“These figures do not cover the costs of hard-to-measure issues such as ecosystem degradation, misery, loss of life or capacity building, and the actual costs could easily double.” Recent studies of potential damage to ocean ecosystems alone given a 4°C rise in average global temperature would come with an economic cost of $2 trillion per year by the end of the 21st century, they note.
Into Unknown Territory

Nonetheless, the authors of Into Unknown Territory: The Limits to Adaptation and the Reality of Loss, state that “while globally we are now committed to permanent and irreversible loss and damage, we can still drastically reduce the extent of climate impacts. Bigger and faster cuts to greenhouse gas emissions can reduce the amount of damage and resources needed for climate adaptation.” The group of NGOs presented the report at the Bonn Climate Change Conference last week.

Stepping up worldwide climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts has become an urgent necessity in order to address the losses and damages likely to be caused given the current course of climate change, the NGOs conclude. They urge world leaders to augment and accelerate the pace of global climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts by taking the following four steps:

  1. Developed countries continue to urgently pursue mitigation strategies: the drivers of loss and damage must be tackled head-on by shifting to low-carbon development pathways globally. Developed countries must increase their ambition level to more than 40 percent emission reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and over 80 percent by 2050. Developed countries must provide finance, technology and capacity building to assist developing countries to invest in adaptation and disaster risk reduction and to transition their development onto low-carbon and climate-resilient pathways.
  2. Decision-makers must refocus existing approaches and massively scale up resources to address vulnerability, building resilience and adaptive capacity, especially of the most vulnerable people, communities and ecosystems.
  3. Building on existing architecture, such as the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the Cancún Adaptation Framework, climate-proofed disaster risk reduction needs to be dramatically scaled-up through infusion of financial resources.
  4. The limits to adaptation are increasingly going to be exceeded and the international community, recognizing the precautionary principle and the role of the UNFCCC, needs to discuss proposals for mechanisms that can address rehabilitation and compensation.

A Warmer Climate: Loss and Damage

In its World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) presents a ‘new policies’ scenario in which world primary energy demand primary energy increases 1/3 from 2010-2035. That would result in a 20 percent increase in energy-related CO2 emissions, which in turn would prompt an increase in mean global temperature exceeding 3.5°C, .

The thing is that current trends portend a doubling of energy-related emissions by 2050, the likely result being a 6°C increase in mean global temperature. The IEA points out, the report authors note, that “4/5 of total energy-related CO2 emissions permissible by 2035 are already ‘locked in’ by existing capital stock such as power plants and buildings.”

“Even with effective action to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts, some countries will experience irreversible losses,” the authors write. “Land, property, ecosystems and communities will be affected to such an extent that a return to normal life will not be possible. In extreme cases, countries will permanently lose territory to climatic disasters and rising sea levels.”

One chapter of Into Unknown Territory with the straightforward title, “Loss and Damage in a Warmer Climate,” lays out the damage and cost climate change has already had, as well as anticipated variations across regions.

Examining climate-related disasters in a special report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that “fatality rates and economic losses expressed as a proportion of GDP are higher in developing countries. “Over 95 percent of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing countries,” between 1970 and 2008.

Looking at what’s in store should current trends persist, “Recent projections suggest that with an increase in the global average of 4°C, such a warmer world would actually lead to increases in Sub-Saharan Africa of temperature rises of up to 7°C, the Amazon rainforest 8°C and the Arctic an incredible 16°C,” according to the report.

Even more dramatically, “A number of countries would no longer physically exist in a 4°C world and even at much lower levels of global warming would face severe impacts. Low-lying atoll communities, such as the Maldives and Kiribati, are especially vulnerable; 80 percent of the islands of the Maldives lie one meter or less above sea level.

“Recent studies predict that sea levels could rise by up to two meters by 2100. In such a scenario there will be devastating impacts for many low lying countries, coastal regions and cities. For example, most of the Maldives would be uninhabitable and its population would have to relocate.”

An Action Program for Climate Change Loss and Damage

A climate change loss and damage work program was adopted at the latest UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa last June. Looking forward over the near term, a UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation is due to make recommendations on loss and damage at the COP18 climate summit in Doha, Qatar later this year.

The UNFCCC has been working to address the issue of loss and damage as a result of climate change since Vanuatu in 1991 introduced a proposal that requested insurance for island states as compensation against sea-level rise. In 2010, a work program to consider approaches that would address loss and damage as a result of the adverse effects of climate change was established at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico. World leaders need to join them in committing to enact policies and action plans that result in significant scaling up and acceleration of such efforts.