Climate change is unequivocal and unprecedented. Human induced climate change drives ever increasing economic, social and environmental losses and damages. Without bold climate action, we will be locked in to 3°C warming or worse, our societies will be way more economically and socially unequal, and planetary health severely, if not irreparably, damaged. Africa is among the most affected and least prepared regions of the world to cope with climate change and its disruptive effects and has contributed least to its causes.
The State and Trends in Adaptation 2021 Report provides a thorough account of recent climate-related emergencies. Climate resilient development, in which climate, ecosystems and human society are closely interlinked and interdependent, provides practicable options to reduce climate risks and build up resilience. Knowledge on climate risks and how to anticipate, cope with and recover from climate related disruptions is a lever of transformative climate actions and a prerequisite for climate resilient development.
There are many expectations from the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference which started this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Many of them relate to climate funding, including – and for the first time – finance arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change. Other important adaptation agenda’s points include operational modalities of the Santiago Network on Loss & Damage, the Global Stocktake and the Global Goal on Adaptation.
The imperative to improve our understanding of climate risks and their cascading effects across scales and geographic and functional boundaries is common to most of these agenda points. It is also a priority of another landmark UN multilateral agreement – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 – adopted in 2015 as the first building blocks of the post-2015 development agenda. The midterm assessment of the progress made under the Sendai Framework is an opportunity to renew the commitment to help building capacities and strengthen North-South collaboration on preventing and managing climate-change-related crises and disruptions.
The assessment of climate hazards, vulnerabilities and coping capabilities has long stimulated convergence between climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR). The systemic approach to risk analysis that characterises all-of-society and multi-hazards risk reduction has inspired adaptation actions. Robust decision-making focusing on strategies that perform well under a range of plausible greenhouse gas emission and socio-economic and scenarios offered valuable lessons for DRR.
National adaptation plans (NAPs) are central instruments to bridge DRR and climate adaptation efforts across sectors, systems and scales. Governments-led NAPs are often planned top-down to support specific sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture or water management. Adaptation needs and barriers of local communities are not well connected to and addressed in NAPs. To make necessary progress on the ground, there is a need for local knowledge, data, and integrating people into the planning at community level.
Local adaptation strategies must feed into NAPs and global adaptation strategies. For this, climate risk assessments and services provide the knowledge which is essential for enhanced local and regional agency and adaptive capacity. These assessments and tailored services serve multiple purposes - ranging in public policy realm from sustainable development to territorial & urban planning, resource management and financial & economic policies – and in private & household decision realm from investments to consumption choices and individual & business risk reduction or hedging.
Climate services have fostered appreciation of climate risks and showed the opportunities to adapt and factor in climate knowledge into individual & collective decision making. The WMO Global Framework for Climate Services together with many national and local weather, hydrological and climate service providers support the use of climate change information for adaptation worldwide. Copernicus, the European Union's Earth Observation Programme, offers access to cutting-edge technologies, high-resolution data and customisable services to help local and national decision-makers to design and monitor implementation of locally-designed and tailored solutions. Building upon these services and combining them with local knowledge can foster transformative change. We should look at how to exploit the wealth of existing knowledge, climate services, vulnerability assessments, and social drivers.
In September 2021, European Commission launched an ambitious program to foster transformative adaptation at local and regional levels: the Horizon Europe Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change. The stated objective of the Mission Adaptation is to support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030, and to deliver at least 75 large-scale demonstrations of systemic transformations to climate resilience. The Mission put emphasis on building capacities to empower and drive fundamental change in the way development is conceived and practiced, and climate change coped with.
Better understanding of risks and opportunities to accelerate adaptation paves the way for orchestrating innovative solutions across essential community systems and for creating large-scale and cross-border impacts.
Transformative adaptation address:
- Resilience of environmental systems with a commitment to regeneration of critical community systems,
- Resilience of social and economic systems with commitment to equity, social and gender justice, and
- Resilience of governance systems, with a commitment to inclusiveness, deliberation, shared values, solidarity and respect for diversity.
Similar oriented research and innovation ‘Mission on climate resilient development pathways in Africa’ could be designed to foster capacity development and knowledge exchange. Such a Mission could contribute to and be part of the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program; and constitute an African knowledge & innovation hub of the Santiago Network on Loss & Damage. The Mission would mobilise, empower and assist African communities in accessing knowledge on climate risks and building essential capabilities and skills to initiate and manage transformative processes and devise pathways to scaling up transformation actions and solutions.
Connected to the on-ground adaptation at local level and applying co-creation and co-development approaches, the Mission would support the African communities to evaluate the past experience and progress in adaptation to climate change, assess their readiness for change, and help closing the gaps in necessary enabling conditions. It would organise peer-exchange and -review processes, assist building lasting partnerships, facilitate mutual learning process and training by doing, foster dialogue and exchange of knowledge and experiences, and develop or enhance capacities and capabilities to cope with climate change.
Climate risks are a major threat to sustainable development, resilience and social cohesion, financial and economic stability and growth. In the interconnected world, climate risks Africa face today and in the future will have direct or indirect effects on Europe.