Bonn talks offer opportunity to bridge the adaptation gap

With climate devastation growing, we can’t keep sidelining climate adaptation at governments’ climate talks

Farmers from Nego' Kebly village in Luxor receiving training on improved agricultural practices for wheat harvests (Photo: Adaptation Fund)


As negotiators gather for this year’s Bonn climate conference, they must put more focus on setting a global goal on adapting the world to climate change, which is known as adaptation.

So far, global efforts on adaptation have been reactive and incremental for two key reasons. One is a significant shortfall in finance for adaptation and the second is these issues being sidelined in multilateral climate agendas.

Climate adaptation is an immediate, intergenerational problem – one with disproportionate existing impacts on vulnerable communities in the Global South. The African continent is a revealing example, as countries battle one extreme weather event after another.

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Despite having contributed less than 4 per cent to global emissions, the continent is already facing disproportionate climate impacts. Climate models predict that the impacts in Africa will only become more severe and frequent with large parts of the continent warming at twice the global rate, leading to more extreme weather events.

Every degree of warming will have ramifications for food production and food security, livelihoods, access to water, health, poverty and inequality, conflict, and more. In 2022 alone, extreme weather events killed roughly 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million people across Africa.

Earlier this year, Cyclone Freddy left behind a wave of devastation in Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar, while the latest series of flash floods left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced in Eastern Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. These deadly weather events send a clear message – scaling up climate adaptation and resilience in Africa is urgent.

Investing in transformative community-led measures is the first step to scaling up climate adaptation. These measures are unique in that they are often context-specific solutions geared toward local realities that help protect people, communities, and ecosystems by building social and ecological resilience to extreme weather events.

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In the African continent, community led adaptive solutions like agroecologyfood sovereigntyforest restoration, and more already exist, particularly at the grassroots and community level.

Agroecology is considered transformative in that it drives system change by challenging power dynamics underpinning the food system, placing power and control back in the hands of the farmer.

As a set of practices, agroecology has numerous co-benefits ranging from enabling farmers to strengthen their farm’s resilience to extreme weather events, to protecting biodiversity, bolstering food production and food sovereignty, and restoring soil fertility.

Equally, boosting finance and investments for locally led adaptation to climate change not only builds resilience, it’s also far more cost effective than reactively paying for and responding to severe crises. Studies estimate that climate adaptation action in African agriculture and food systems will likely cost less than one tenth of inaction – in other words, the cost of action is $15 billion versus $201 billion per annum if no action is taken.

A major stumbling block to African countries and communities developing adaptive capacities and becoming more resilient is the significant gap in adaptation finance.  As it stands, Africa will face a $265 billion shortfall in climate finance for adaptation by 2030.  To address and close the existing debt for climate adaptation, those most responsible for the climate crisis have a moral responsibility to drastically increase adaptation finance to African countries.

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If they fail to do so, vulnerable and frontline communities across Africa, and the Global South at large, will continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis – a crisis they did not cause.

As the recent report spotlights, we need a political response at Cop28 that fast tracks global climate action efforts and places us back on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

As one of four pillars, the report calls for higher priority to be given to adaptation that is people-centred and sustains livelihoods.

For climate adaptation support to be truly transformative for the African context, access to decision making platforms, resources, investments, and finances must involve and reach local African communities most affected by the climate crisis. A people centred, rights based approach that protects communities and biodiversity must be at heart of these upcoming climate negotiations and decisions.

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