Mood lift for climate action

A report from a prestigious group looks at ways that adaptation to global warming can counter hopelessness about slow progress in preventing warming.

Workers in Alexandria, Egypt, work on a sea wall to block rising sea levels.

Three decades of efforts to arrest global warming have inspired many people to adopt solutions. Yet as temperatures keep rising, and many weather disasters are tied to climate change, others have turned fatalistic – even about adapting to the potential damage. On Sept. 10, this blue funk received a red flag. A major report from key leaders offered this encouraging news: If significant investments are made in adapting to climate change, they are likely to be paid back as much as 10-fold in economic benefits.

That’s the conclusion of the Global Commission on Adaptation, led by three international heavyweights: former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, and Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive of the World Bank. The report’s underlying message, says Mr. Ban, is to counter the notion that it is too late to protect people from disasters like Hurricane Dorian.

“I’m here today to tell you that this is simply not true,” he said.

The report estimates that investments in adaptation could save trillions of dollars in losses by 2030. For example, spending $800 million on a global warning system for storms and heat waves could result in countries avoiding losses of as much as $16 billion annually. In general, for every $1 invested in adaptation, it estimates, between $2 and $10 of net economic benefits would result.

These investments should be made across broad areas, the commission says, including the implementing a global early warning system, protecting shoreline mangroves, improving agricultural techniques, and making water resources more resilient. Without efforts to adapt farming, global agricultural yields could drop by 30% by midcentury – and have their worst effects on the world’s 500 million small farmers.

“If we do not act now, climate change will supercharge the global gap between the haves and the have-nots,” said Mr. Ban.

Will this climate report be yet another one that is soon forgotten? Not likely. In late September, the commissioners will launch a “year of action” at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. They will follow up with public officials and private players to boost investments in adaptation.

The report also undercuts the false choice between cutting greenhouse emissions and adaptation. Both are possible, with a focus on adaptation being a way to persuade more people to support clean energy. People working together to adapt to climate change might find their expectations lifted to tackle the big task of reducing carbon pollution.

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