Climate adaptation costs could hit $1trn a year by 2050 – UN

The cost of protecting people from climate change impacts are likely to be 2-3 times IPCC estimates, finds UN report

Adaptation can mean a sea wall to protect against heightened coastal flooding risk (Pic: Flickr/Blue Square Thing)

Adaptation can mean a sea wall to protect against heightened coastal flooding risk
(Pic: Flickr/Blue Square Thing)

By Megan Darby in Lima

The costs of adapting to climate change are likely to be two or three times higher than previous estimates, the UN has warned.

Even if the world hits its goal of limiting temperature rise to 2C, costs are set to reach US$250-500 billion in 2050, according to the Adaptation Gap report, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Under business as usual, which is expected to lead to 3.7C warming, the figure could reach double the worst case estimate.

“The report provides a powerful reminder that the potential cost of inaction carries a real price tag,” said UNEP chief Achim Steiner.

“The escalating cost implications on communities, cities, business, taxpayers and national budgets merit closer attention as they translate into real economic consequences.”

LIVE IN LIMA – DAY 5: UN COP20 climate change summit

The report, drawn together by 29 experts from around the world, was published on day five of UN climate talks in Lima.

Negotiators are laying the groundwork for a global climate deal in Paris next year and the status of adaptation has been a subject of fierce debate.

On the whole, developed nations want to focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while poorer states say adaptation and climate finance should be on an equal footing.

While no part of the world is immune from the heatwaves, flooding and storms expected to increase with rising temperatures, developing economies are particularly vulnerable.

Bangladeshi adaptation expert Saleemul Huq, who was on the steering committee for the report, said: “Hopefully here in Lima, we will get a resolution on whether we should have an adaptation goal and if so what it should look like.”

That could include agreements on technology and knowledge sharing as well as financial support, he added.

Adaptation finance

Public funding for adaptation projects such as sea walls and drought-resistant crops are increasing, with an estimated US$24.6 billion spent in 2012/13.

This is mainly delivered through development assistance, said report co-author Anne Olhoff.

“In the short term, this would mean there is not a significant gap but the adaptation and funding needs increase very rapidly towards the end of the 2020s and into the 30s and 40s.”

Costs are set to reach US$150 billion a year 2025-30 and US$250-500bn by 2050, assuming action is taken to curb emissions and limit warming to 2C.

These supersede estimates of US$70-100 billion a year in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, which Olhoff said did not cover all areas and risks.

It is difficult to distinguish between different temperature scenarios, added co-author Florent Baarsch, but higher temperatures mean higher costs.

“Beyond 2050, the gap between a 2C scenario and a 4C scenario changes much faster.”

Rich countries have promised to mobilise US$100 billion by 2020 for adaptation and sustainable development.

But China’s lead negotiator, Su Wei, told journalists on Thursday “we don’t have any clear roadmap” towards that target.

The US$10 billion raised under the Green Climate Fund is “far from adequate”, he said.

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