It’s been a horrible year but worse will follow without action on climate change

Friday, December 11, 2020

By any measure, 2020 has been a shocker for humanity. In this blog Practical Action’s Colin McQuistan reflects on the challenges we’ve faced, and those we need to gear up to tackle as we approach the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. 

We started the year with terrible fires in Australia and the US west coast that destroyed homes and livelihoods, not to mention fragile ecosystems.

Then COVID-19 inflicted human misery all over the planet. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost so far. The damage to the global economy is staggering and will be felt for decades.

The catastrophic scale of the pandemic means that this year’s supercharged action on climate chaos is on the back foot. This is, after all, the year when the crucial COP26 climate talks would have taken place in Glasgow.

In its place we welcome a virtual climate ambition summit hosted this weekend by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

A UNFCCC led Race to Resilience campaign will also be announced involving businesses, investors, cities, regions, and civil society to build the resilience of 4 billion people vulnerable to climate risks by 2030.

These events mark five years since the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Paris Agreement committed the international community to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But a recent UN report warned that we’re on track for a 3 degree rise in temperatures, even if existing commitments are met.

This would have catastrophic impacts on the world’s most climate vulnerable people, leading to an increase in the frequency of potentially high impact natural hazards.

The human cost would be staggering. It would reverse decades of development gains and render useless the work underway to help people adapt to and cope with climate chaos.

As the international community look to curb harmful emissions to prevent catastrophic rises in temperatures, Practical Action, a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, is concerned that the world’s most climate vulnerable communities don’t get the funding needed to cope with climate change.

We said so in our report At What Cost. It revealed that climate finance is not being spent where it’s needed most, but rather directed to less climate vulnerable countries that are more stable.

What is most galling is that organisations like Practical Action, working with our partners on the front line of climate change, know what needs to be done. We have evidence of tried and tested work which is helping people adapt and thrive. But without the political will and finance, this work cannot be scaled by civil society alone.

The international community must make the necessary climate finance adaptation investments in the most fragile states. If we don’t then people whose homes and businesses washed away in 2020’s devastating floods in places like Sudan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam will be joined by tens of millions more struggling to cope with climate change.

This year’s World Disaster Report reached the same conclusion. In addition, it found that over the past decade, 83 per cent of all disasters were related to extreme weather and climate-related events such as floods. These disasters killed more than 410,000 people and affected a staggering 1.7 billion people.

We’ve got to fix this.

We can start by setting ambitious new targets for climate finance over the next five years. This must include doubling climate finance to the most fragile and climate vulnerable communities.

In addition, we must identify new funding sources to help people adapt and build their resilience to weather related events like floods.

Moreover, we must support fragile and vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build resilience to natural hazards for the long-term.

And we must meaningfully engage with climate vulnerable countries, fragile states, and marginalised communities such as women, children, people with disabilities, and indigenous peoples. Their voice is central to the discussions in the lead up to the delayed COP26 in Glasgow next year.

COVID-19 ambushed this year’s plans to massively ramp up action on climate change. But our response to the pandemic, which has involved mobilising trillions of dollars to protect people from the virus, working at speed to develop vaccines, and changing the way we shop, live and work, shows what humanity can do in a crisis.

As bad as the pandemic is, the climate crisis will be much worse if we fail to act now. World leaders must meet, then exceed the commitments made five years ago under the Paris Agreement. They must focus with laser like intensity on supporting the people most vulnerable to climate change.

If we fail to act, then we can all look forward to futures blighted by climate chaos.

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