After two weeks of intense negotiations at COP26, nearly 200 countries signed the Glasgow Climate Pact. While significant progress was made on mitigating carbon emissions, the new climate deal fell well short of addressing the concerns of developing countries on climate adaptation. Action on this front, however, can no longer be ignored or delayed. The climate crisis is already upon us.

Last week, Chennai once again came to a standstill due to severe flooding caused by overwhelming rainfall. This is the latest in a series of extreme climate events witnessed across the world this year — floods in China and Germany, heatwaves in Canada and the US, wildfires in Greece, and droughts in Kenya and Madagascar, among others. It is time for climate adaptation to become a central part of the global development agenda.

According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, adaptation-related costs in developing countries could reach $140-300 billion by 2030. Yet, on a separate day dedicated to ‘Adaptation and Loss and Damage’ at COP26, 14 nations came together to commit a paltry sum of $232 million to the UN Adaptation Fund. Though double the previous mobilisation to the fund, the support pales in comparison to the sums being committed by developed countries to shore up their own defences to the climate crisis. For instance, the US, through the recently passed infrastructure bill, dedicated $47 billion towards helping vulnerable communities build resilience against extreme climate events.

Can we continue to ignore the fact that failure to act immediately on adaptation could permanently devastate the economies and ecosystems of many vulnerable countries, much before 2050? Can developed countries celebrate climate progress while continuing to under-deliver on promised climate finance and stalling pleas for supporting loss and damage? Countries need to rapidly step up collective action to adapt better and build resilience against the accelerating climate crisis.

Steps to be taken

First, developed countries need to significantly ramp up the delivery of climate finance, especially towards adaptation efforts. Even in Glasgow, these countries failed to meet prior commitments made in 2009 — an extremely low bar of climate finance worth $100 billion, annually, from 2020 onwards. This lack of urgency and breach of trust significantly undermines any global collective action on climate change.

Also, while it has now been agreed to double the proportion of climate finance going to adaptation, it is crucial that most of the money be delivered in the form of grants. Greater transparency is also needed to measure and evaluate the impact of adaptation finance. Further, these historical emitters must agree on a common definition of climate finance to strengthen accountability and rebuild trust.

Second, developed countries need to move beyond dialogues and urgently put money on the table to help meet the mounting loss and damage faced by developing countries due to the rising frequency and intensity of extreme climate events. According to a World Meteorological Organisation study, in 2020 alone, India lost $87 billion due to cyclones, floods and droughts.

In Glasgow, the taboo around loss and damage was finally broken. Scotland and Wallonia, a region in Belgium, stepped forward to commit nearly $2.7 million and $1.1 million for loss and damage, respectively. Countries also agreed to operationalise the Santiago Network to provide technical expertise on loss and damage. However, calls for a new funding facility for loss and damage were blocked by developed countries.

Third, countries need to collectively design better insurance mechanisms against rising climate shocks. Weather-related insurance losses have increased by five times to $55 billion since the 1980s, globally. Insurance premiums are also rising steeply, especially in the most climate vulnerable regions.

CEEW proposes setting up a Global Resilience Reserve Fund as a partial guarantee against severe climate shocks. This would not only help spread the financial costs of climate risks faced among countries but would also ensure that the most vulnerable are not left without an insurance cover.

Fourth, countries from the Global South must forge new partnerships to scale up granular climate risk assessments and strengthen local adaptive capacity. In India, we now have district-level data on vulnerability against extreme climate events. Replicating such frameworks in other climate vulnerable countries and contextualising them as per the local requirements would be critical in advancing a data-backed approach to building climate resilience across the developing world.

Finally, countries must collaborate to promote nature-based solutions such as restoring coral reefs and mangroves, switching to natural farming, protecting traditional water bodies, and regenerating forests. This would not only help restore and re-build our natural ecosystems but would also make our cities and villages more climate resilient.

The cost of inaction on climate adaptation is rising. Any further delay will put millions of lives and livelihoods at further risk along with stalling critical efforts on the mitigation front. We must act now.

Mohanty is Programme Lead, and Shah is Strategic Communications Lead, at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water