UN Report Says Climate Change Adaptation Costs Could Be Much Higher Than Thought

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By Eric J. Lyman

Dec. 5 — Efforts to adapt to climate change in the developing world could cost several times previous estimates, regardless of how successful negotiations are to reduce emissions, the United Nations said Dec. 5 at the Lima climate change conference.

Estimates of a potential tripling of earlier forecast costs were revealed in the UN Environment Program’s first Adaptation Gap Report, released on Day 5 of the international climate talks in the Peruvian capital.

“The current global estimates of the costs of adaptation report a range of US$70 billion to US$100 billion per year globally by 2050 (for developing countries),” the report said. “The findings of this review suggest these values are likely to be a significant underestimate, particularly in the years 2030 and beyond. As a minimum, it seems likely that the costs of adaptation will be two to three times higher than current global estimates.”

Countries have agreed to provide at least $10 billion this year to help fund adaptation efforts in developing countries, with a goal of ramping up to $100 billion annually by 2020. But the UNEP report said that might not be nearly enough.

Main Area of Negotiation

The report said adaptation costs will likely be higher than previously expected, regardless of what happens in negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, talks that are expected to culminate late in 2015 with a global agreement in Paris.

The report is the most comprehensive look yet at what it could cost the international community to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Funding for adaptation efforts, especially in developing countries, is one of the main areas of negotiations in Lima. Delegates are looking for ways to increase funding to the $100-billion-a-year level in little more than half a decade. On Dec. 4, Su Wei, head of the delegation from China, called the efforts in this area so far “inadequate.”

Green Climate Fund Grows

The process did get a boost Dec. 5, when Norway said it would double its previous pledge of $125 million for this year. That brings total economic pledges for this year to $9.95 billion for the UN's Green Climate Fund, just short of the $10 billion target for 2015 to help developing countries.

UN officials told Bloomberg BNA that with other deals in the works, it was very likely the minimum target would be reached. The U.S., which pledged $3 billion, is the largest donor this year.

But the problem of how to raise that level to $100 billion a year by 2020—for use exclusively in the world's poorer countries—remains a major obstacle. In talks this week, delegates said the fund would draw on both private and public sources of finance, but the plans are still vague.

UNEP said the costs would not be lowered significantly if an aggressive mitigation regime was put in place in the global 2015 agreement on climate change, but the report warned they would be even higher if the agreement finalized next year is weak or if more aggressive mitigation action is otherwise delayed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Lima at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report is available at http://www.unep.org/climatechange/adaptation/gapreport2014/portals/50270/pdf/AGR_FULL_REPORT.pdf