The Netherlands hosted the Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021, marking the first time world leaders gathered at a global event focused solely on adaptation and resilience. As a platform for new commitments and renewed affirmations, CAS served as a key steppingstone to other major climate events throughout 2021, including November’s COP26 in Glasgow.
The summit came at a time as climate impacts are accelerating around the world, disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities. In the last two decades, natural disasters linked to extreme weather accounted for 475,000 deaths and $2.6 trillion in damages. Many countries are still falling well behind targets set by the Paris Agreement and failing to adequately support countries most affected by climate change.
It was against this backdrop that thousands of people — including 22 heads of state and more than 50 ministers and leaders of international organizations — gathered to increase the political profile of adaptation, reaffirm existing commitments and make new pledges to advance adaptation and resilience.
At the summit, many leaders showed interest in advancing critical shifts toward adaptation. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasized the importance of locally led adaptation; China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng called on the international community to redouble their national adaptation efforts; and the Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte introduced the Adaptation Action Agenda to help guide adaptation efforts over the next decade.
In addition to these important messages, what did the Summit deliver, and where do we go from here? Major outcomes and commitments made by world leaders at the Climate Adaptation Summit include:
Increasing Finance for Adaptation
At the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all donors and multilateral banks to commit to increasing the share of funding for adaptation and resilience to 50% of total climate finance by 2024, reiterating previous calls. But it will be an uphill climb for many countries: adaptation currently accounts for less than 25% of global climate finance.
“Huge gaps remain on financing for adaptation in developing countries,” said Guterres. “Adaptation cannot be the neglected half of the climate equation.”
Very few countries stepped up to meet this call. Most developed countries are still not meeting the 50% target for adaptation finance. Just as many are not living up to their Paris Agreement commitment to provide their fair share toward the $100 billion a year target for climate finance to developing countries.
That said, several actors outlined specific measures related to adaptation funding. The Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterated that all Dutch public finance continues to be equally focused on mitigation and adaptation, with 50% funding for adaptation. The World Bank Group and African Development Bank previously committed to the same 50-50 goal. France’s President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed his commitment to allocate one-third of France’s annual climate finance for adaptation — which we argue should be stepped up to 50% in line with other leaders. The African Development Bank reaffirmed its commitment to mobilize $25 billion as climate finance between 2020 and 2025, half going to adaptation.
Two countries committed new funding to adaptation. Germany pledged an additional €220 million ($264.4 million) to support least developed countries in adapting to climate change and expanding climate insurance programs through the InsuResilience Global Partnership. The Netherlands contributed an additional €20 million ($24 million) to the Least Developed Countries Fund for adaptation and €100 million ($120.2 million) to the Drylands Sahel program for sustainable agriculture.
Though lacking details, United States Climate Envoy John Kerry said the nation would “significantly increase the flow of finance” to global adaptation and resilience initiatives, reverse Trump-era policies and make good on its climate finance pledges.
While these commitments are important, far more is needed. The summit helped popularize the benchmark of 50% of climate finance going toward adaptation, but all bilateral donors and multilateral banks must step up to achieve this goal. And while increasing climate finance is vital, it cannot come at the expense of cutting Official Development Assistance (ODA). Developing countries rely on ODA to build resilience to multiple threats, including climate impacts.
Integrating Adaptation Throughout Public and Private Sector Decisions
The summit highlighted the need to integrate climate risks into all levels of decision-making, including budget and investment decisions, a call that Secretary-General Guterres emphasized.
Notably, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva announced four major new IMF climate actions, helping vulnerable countries build their capacity to manage the financial risks of climate change. The IMF will:
Integrate climate risks into Article 4 consultations, its annual country economic assessments. This is a significant development, as it will give vulnerable countries a better picture of the economic risks they face from climate change.
Encourage every country in the world to take the regulatory measures required to reduce financial sector climate risks. These measures can help businesses and communities better understand and prepare for potential financial impacts of storms, cyclones and droughts.
Help equip finance ministries and central banks with the skills needed to take climate considerations into account, recognizing that these changes require new government capacities.
Incorporate climate change, its economic impacts and countries’ supporting policies into its main macroeconomic database. This will elevate the level of transparency on these issues worldwide.
As the IMF and Secretary-General Guterres noted, developing countries should receive support to integrate climate risks throughout decision-making. Donor countries and international organizations should recognize this and provide the financial and technical support needed to developing countries.
Also, as governments increase the pace of financial sector reforms to better understand and disclose climate risks, the private sector and governments need to build the tools and capacity to do so. The Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, a public-private coalition devoted to this task, recently announced expanded private sector membership — including investors, banks, insurers and rating agencies, now with a combined $11 trillion in assets — and new participation from Australia and California.
Scaling Up Adaptation Initiatives
Several organizations and governments announced new initiatives, efforts or funding that support vulnerable communities in building resilience.
Over 40 governments, international institutions and organizations endorsed new Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, which are intended to catalyze a shift toward adaptation programs, funding and practices that are increasingly owned by local actors. This is a monumental first step that could lead to immense change in adaptation practices. More governments and organizations should commit to these principles over the course of 2021.
Additionally, the mayors of Miami, Paris and Rotterdam joined WRI and partners to launch the 1,000 Cities Adapt Now global program, which aims to help 1,000 cities adapt to climate change over the next 10 years. Cities could face $1 trillion in damages from flooding by midcentury, making adaptation an urgent priority. National governments must step up and increase funding for cities to adapt.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the Adaptation Action Coalition, a group of leading nations that will work with the Race to Resilience initiative and the UN Climate Action team to turn international political commitments into on-the-ground support for vulnerable communities. Through this group, developed and developing countries will share knowledge and best practices. This coalition must catalyze real change, including increased finance and support to developing countries; more meetings and workshops are not what is needed now.
The World Must Deliver More Action Throughout 2021
The Climate Adaptation Summit saw world leaders raise the political profile of adaptation. While the summit resulted in some important outcomes and commitments, bolder, faster and more specific actions are needed to help vulnerable communities face this reality.
CAS served as a kickoff for a promising year in climate adaptation. In the months ahead, world leaders will meet at the United States Climate Leaders’ Summit, United Kingdom Climate and Development Forum, G7, G20 and COP26 in November in Glasgow. Each of these moments present opportunities for governments to turn words into action.