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Adapting to Global Warming: $100 Billion Says World Bank

Heather Allen - International Advocate, Washington, DC, NRDC
Posted on Sunday 4th October 2009

The typhoon Ketsana is pouring down on Bangkok this morning as I ready myself for day four of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings. Representatives of countries and hundreds of civil society organizations will continue to meet here for another week to identify solutions for December's critical global warming negotiation in Copenhagen.

As the media has reported, the results of talks here are mixed, but there is hope in the conversation about adaptation. As NRDC noted here efforts to build resilience to climate change impacts in developing nations is critical because climate change is affecting vulnerable people around the world now. And there is a growing recognition that this will create global instability that will impact the US national security (as discussed here). So not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also in the US domestic interest.

Today's typhoon ripped through the Philippines, Samoa, Tonga, Vietnam, Cambodia and other nations before it arrived here in Bangkok but the good news is that the storm has become part of the debate, a terrible tangible impact of climate change.

The threat of worsening storms was reiterated last night at a World Bank event about their new report, Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change (EACC).

The report indicates that the costs of adaptation to a world 2°C warmer would cost between $75 - $100 billion a year between 2010 and 2050. $100 billion is a big number and delegates from the most vulnerable countries are rightfully concerned that monies must be committed now, at sustainable and sufficient levels to help build resiliency.

And if we don't address global warming the price tag would become even larger so we need invest in solving this challenge. It is always cheaper and easier to avoid the mess in the first place than to clean up after the fact.

is critical that the US and other countries increase their financial contribution towards helping developing countries address this financial gap. There are some efforts to provide a down payment towards this end (as my colleague discussed here) and the US Administration as begun to more clearly signal that it wants this support in the climate bill working its way through the US Senate (as my colleague discussed here). But more needs to be done to support adaptation in developing countries.

But the report from the World Bank approaches adaptation through a traditional development lens. How much will it cost to replace the dams, seawalls and power plants which may suffer from climate impacts?

These adaptation needs are important. We must make our investments more resilient to global warming and we need to ensure that we are simultaneously pulling millions out of poverty.

But it is no longer appropriate to view adaptation through a 'hard' model which largely does not factor in policy shifts and social responses. Soft tools like capacity building, communication, education, research and planning are perhaps the most critical in our efforts to adapt to climate change. Adaption, even in its very name suggests new innovative approaches, flexible tools and models supple enough to respond to the variety of new scenarios the world will experience. Without major shifts in thinking, the World Bank and other groups are likely to continue with adaptation by ribbon cutting, favoring large concrete infrastructure solutions over flexible sustainable mechanisms which can take many forms.

In 2050 the least developed nations should have cutting edge energy sectors which incorporate the best renewable technologies and social and economic models which promote efficiency. In this ideal world, coastal communities will be protected through participatory costal management which capitalizes on the natural world's resilience through investment in wetland and mangrove rehabilitation, rather than seawalls and other 'hard' tools which often shift vulnerabilities and may not withstand the intensified weather events of a +2°C warmer world. A mix of soft tools (enabling communities to adapt and progress) and hard tools (providing the energy, water and food) are both essential to sustainable development.

Here in Bangkok, once the clouds begin to part, lets hope that leaders of both the industrialized and developing world will use the projected costs of adaptation to shape a climate agreement which supports resiliency with flexible tools.

***This post originally appeared on the NRDC Switchboard.

Heather Allen is an International Advocate, Washington, DC at NRDC.

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