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The first Climate Adaptation Summit put a spotlight on climate adaptation as a political issue. The virtual meeting united global players with one goal in mind: Building resilience is just as important as climate protection itself.
The agenda has been set. Droughts, scorching heat, massive rainfall and rising sea levels are already impacting nature, cities and food systems all over the world. Adapting to these consequences, mitigating them and figuring out how to move forward – that was the task of the first Climate Adaptation Summit on 25 and 26 January, which was hosted on a virtual platform by the Dutch government because of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘If we don’t act now, the aftermath will be disastrous’, Prime Minister Mark Rutte proclaimed at the starting point of the panels. ‘This summit must lead to action.’
The event was attended by more than 30 government leaders, 50 ministers as well as numerous representatives from academia, business and civil society. All in all, 15,000 people registered. Never before has climate adaptation been discussed so prominently at the international level. At the opening ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a ‘breakthrough’. More specifically: Exactly half of all funds spent internationally on climate protection should be redirected to work on adaptation and resilience. Guterres provided a few examples. ‘All investments must be climate-resilient’, he said, calling for the development of more early warning systems for floods.
The surprise guest was John Kerry. The former US Secretary and current climate envoy of the new administration under President Joe Biden said ‘we’re proud to be back’, referring to the past four years under Donald Trump’s administration, who pulled out of the climate agreement. ‘We’re humbly returning after being absent over the past four years and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it.’ German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a video message in which she announced that the German government would provide 50 million euros for the Adaptation Fund with the intent to provide poorer countries with access to financing for climate-related projects. The German government is also offering 100 million euros for the least developed countries. ‘On behalf of Germany, I’m proud to say’, adds Merkel, ‘we will do our part’.
But how can climate adaptation be accelerated? In the panel ‘Accelerating African adaptation’, Gerd Müller, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), described adaptation as a global condition for growth. Germany contributed 540 million euros to funding for African regions in 2019, for example through a flood prevention cooperation with the World Bank. ‘Various initiatives are popping up throughout Africa and we’re happy to support them.’ In the same panel, Ibrahim Thiaw from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) made it clear that adaptation and mitigation should not be considered separately. ‘For example, the best mitigation is land recultivation.’ The question of the causative agent of climatological issues was also debated. ‘We must accept that the problem of climate change was not caused by Africa’, says Mithika Mwenda, co-founder of the climate change activist organisation ‘Pan African Climate Justice Alliance’. To him it is evident who is responsible. According to the Kyoto agreement, the industrialised countries had promised to help with money every year. ‘We’re still waiting.’
"For Germany, I can say we're pitching in" - Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
Sigrid Kaag, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, picked up where he left off and called for more focus on the most vulnerable. ‘Communities can handle shock if they’re prepared’, she said. Surveys show that every dollar invested in adaptation generates four to five dollars return; adaptation is thus an economic driver. ‘There’s been a noticeable increase in support over the last five years’, added Daouda Ndiaye, adaptation expert of the Islamic Development Bank. ‘The quality is increasing.’ Nevertheless, he called for more funding in the sector and referred to bilateral funds such as those from Germany.
The CAS is concluding the campaign year of the Global Commission on Adaptation based in the Netherlands. It all started in September 2019 with the UN Climate Change Summit. However, the World Climate Conference had to be postponed until November 2021, and the announcements made by government leaders at the special summit to mark the anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2020 focused more on climate protection; hence now the focus is on issues of adaptation.
Several speakers suggested focusing on rural populations, since 50 per cent of the world’s food is produced by smallholders. And they are among the worst positioned for climate change. But the focus also remains on cities. After all, the massive trend of urbanisation continues to grow and cities are strongly affected by climate change. The ‘Resilient Cities’ panel was dedicated to this complex issue. Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez described cities as being on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19, but he noted that they also play a crucial role in trying out adaptation strategies. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, said: ‘We’re running out of time.’ She reported heat waves, floods and heavier rainfall. Jürgen Zattler, Executive Director at the World Bank Group, pointed out that the majority of the world’s population already lived in cities. Good infrastructure management is necessary for this organisational process to work. ‘Urban resilience needs to be reconsidered’, he proclaimed, advocating the One Health approach in this context. That mayors do not suffer from being underworked was documented by Mohammed Adjei, Mayor of Accra. He used his mobile phone to join the CAS. ‘It’s a chaotic situation’, the Ghanaian said to explain the bad connection, adding it was ‘not stable’. ‘All of our activities must comply with climate regulations.’ The metropolis of five million people will soon be a resilient city.
The panel on ‘Agriculture & Food Security’ outlined that entire food systems also need to be adapted to climate change. ‘Hunger has increased over the last five years’, summarised Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Special Envoy to the UN Food Systems Summit. ‘Resilience in food systems also contributes to the conservation of the planet.’ At the CAS, one government leader after another professed that investing in resilience is imperative..
Dirk Schattschneider, Department Head at the BMZ, called for a strategy to tackle future challenges. ‘We can learn a lot from agriculture.’ He emphasised that the planned UN Food Systems Summit this year will be very meaningful. ‘Money isn’t everything’, he said. Funding systems should be revised. It means that politicians must be willing to act – in the North as well as in the South. ‘The private investors will surely follow.’ Calmly, Kalibata uttered perhaps the key phrase of the summit: ‘We can do better.’ The climate issues should not be delegated to future generations. ‘We are facing the greatest opportunities of our lives.’