Global Leaders Issue Report Underscoring Imminent Need for Adaptation

September 12, 2019

A panel of political, business and environmental leaders is the latest to issue warnings about the growing climate crisis emanating from increasingly volatile global weather patterns. Citing what it calls new research findings, the Global Commission on Adaptation, which is led by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. business magnate Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, is calling on governments and businesses to take urgent action to innovate and advance climate adaptation solutions.

While we hope that global leaders take seriously the ongoing and pending threats outlined in the commission’s report, we would think a principal source of appeal is the “bottom-line” benefits that adaptation actions taken now can pay out in the years and decades ahead.

In its report released Monday – Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience – the commission puts forward a financial vision that shows how to transform key economics systems, making them more resilient and productive. The report makes a strong case that climate adaptation implemented now can produce significant economic returns going forward, asserting that the overall rate of return on investments in improved resilience is high, with benefit-cost ratios ranging from 2:1 to 10:1, and in some cases even higher.

The analysis specifically finds that investing $1.8 trillion globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. Among those five areas is improved dryland agriculture, where the research cited by the commission shows that without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050. Mostly affected will be the 500 million small farms around the world.

Of course, recent events have shown that climate change affects people everywhere. And as the U.S. military has pointed out for years, without action, a changing climate will push millions of people further into poverty, leading to increased conflict and instability. (Earlier this year, the Pentagon issued without fanfare another report showing that more than two-thirds of the its own operationally critical installations are threatened by climate change.)

The commission report asserts that climate adaptation can deliver a “triple dividend” of avoiding future losses, generating positive economic gains through innovation, and delivering additional social and environmental benefits.

A specific agricultural example offered by the commission’s report is taken from Zimbabwe, where farmers using drought-tolerant corn were able to harvest upwards of 1,300 pounds more corn per hectare (nearly 2.5 acres) than with conventional corn. That additional harvest was enough to feed a family of six for nine months and provide $240 in extra income, helping them send their children to school and meet other household needs.

The commission asserts that the need for quickly adopting adaptation measures in all areas – including agriculture – is not being met at nearly the pace and scale required because climate impacts and risks are not yet adequately factored into decisions by those who make choices about the future. SfL fully agrees with the panel’s assertion that achieving the change needed requires transformational change by:

  • Understanding fully the risks societies and economies face, and reflecting that certainty in the decisions that public and private actors make.
  • Planning to improve how we make policy and investment decisions and how we implement solutions.
  • Financing to mobilize the funds and resources necessary to accelerate adaptation. Even though the imperative for action is clear, money is not flowing at the pace or scale needed.

The urgency for action cited by the commission’s report underscores the need for policies and mechanisms that encourage the practices needed to sustain optimum agricultural production, even as climate conditions grow more unpredictable. We urge policy makers to study and heed the commission’s report and provide direction, tax incentives, cost-sharing and conservation technical assistance, the latter through programs such as the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Fund and Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Financial incentives for practices such as rotational grazing and cover crops can help those who work the land to sustain high productivity.

Solutions from the Land and the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) heavily promote the role of adaptation in production systems to meet the climate challenges that the agriculture and forestry sectors face. We champion research to develop the seeds and plant structures that can withstand the challenging environmental conditions imposed by a changing climate. We support risk management strategies minimize or avoid potential losses. And we support utilization of tools to guide land management decision making. With the right forethought and leadership, agriculture can meet future climate challenges and remain viable.

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