ADAPT NOW: THE URGENCY OF ACTION
UN Executive SUMMARY
See https://cdn.gca.org/assets/2019-09/GlobalCommission_Report_FINAL.pdf for full report
Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity, with far-reaching and devastating impacts on people, the environment, and the economy. Climate impacts affect all regions
of the world and cut across all sectors of society. People who
did the least to cause the problem—especially those living in
poverty and fragile areas—are most at risk.
• Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in
global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050. The 500
million small farms around the world will be most affected.
• The number of people who may lack sufficient water, at
least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to
more than 5 billion by 2050.
• Rising seas and greater storm surges could force hundreds
of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes,
with a total cost to coastal urban areas of more than
$1 trillion each year by 2050.
• Climate change could push more than 100 million people
within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030.
The costs of climate change on people and the economy are
clear. The toll on human life is irrefutable. The question is how
will the world respond: Will we delay and pay more or plan
ahead and prosper?
The Imperatives for
Accelerating climate change adaptation is a human,
environmental, and economic imperative:
THE HUMAN IMPERATIVE
Climate change exacerbates existing inequities by widening
the gap between people with wealth and people living in
poverty. It has a disproportionate impact on women and
girls, who, in most of the world, have little voice in decisions
that affect their lives. It also puts an unfair burden on future
generations. Solutions to these climate-related inequities
must address underlying power structures and dynamics.
We will not accept a world where only some can adapt, and
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPERATIVE
The natural environment is humanity’s first line of defense
against floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes. A
thriving natural environment is fundamental to adaptation
in every human enterprise. Yet, one in four species is facing
extinction, about a quarter of all ice-free land is now subject
to degradation, ocean temperatures and acidity are rising,
and climate change is accelerating the loss of natural assets
everywhere. There is still time to protect and work with nature
to build resilience and reduce climate risks at all scales, but
the window is closing.
THE ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE
Adapting now is in our strong economic self-interest.
The Commission found that the overall rate of return
on investments in improved resilience is very high, with
benefit-cost ratios ranging from 2:1 to 10:1, and in some
cases even higher (see Figure ES.1).
Specifically, our research finds that investing $1.8 trillion
globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate
$7.1 trillion in total net benefits. In other words, failing
to seize the economic benefits of climate adaptation with
high-return investments would undermine trillions of dollars in
potential growth and prosperity. The five areas we considered
for this estimate are early warning systems, climate-resilient
infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture crop production,
global mangrove protection, and investments in making water
resources more resilient. These areas are illustrative, based on
available data on economic returns: the full report has broader
recommendations across seven systems that go beyond
these five areas.
Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience September 2019 3
We find that adaptation actions bring multiple benefits,
which we call the triple dividend. The first dividend is avoided
losses, that is, the ability of the investment to reduce future
losses. The second is positive economic benefits through
reducing risk, increasing productivity, and driving innovation
through the need for adaptation; the third is social and environmental benefits. In Figure ES.1, all five areas have avoided loss
benefits, and the last three—improved dryland crop production,
mangrove protection, and water resources management—
have further economic, and social and environmental benefits.
While avoiding losses is the most common motivation for investing in resilience, taken alone such losses underestimate the total
benefits to society. Many adaptation actions generate significant
additional economic, social, and environmental benefits, which
accrue on an ongoing basis starting at the time of investment
and are not dependent on the future state of the climate. In other
words, they are both more certain and more immediate.
Better awareness of and evidence for all three dividends
will make the economic imperative case for adaptation ever
stronger. We expand on the triple dividends in the Box ES.1.
Three Revolutions for a Better Future
The case for ambitious adaptation is clear, but it’s not
happening at nearly the pace and scale required. This is
because climate impacts and risks are not yet adequately
factored into decisions by those who make choices about the
future. Achieving the change needed requires revolutions in
A Revolution in Understanding to ensure that the risks
societies and economies face are fully understood—and
reflected in the decisions that public and private actors make.
A key element is the need to make risk visible, requiring more
Note: This graph is meant to illustrate the broad economic case for investment in a range of adaptation approaches. The net benefits illustrate the approximate
global net benefits to be gained by 2030 from an illustrative investment of $1.8 trillion in five areas (the total does not equal the sum of the rows due to rounding).
Actual returns depend on many factors, such as economic growth and demand, policy context, institutional capacities, and condition of assets. Also, these
investments neither address all that may be needed within sectors (for example, adaptation in the agricultural sector will consist of much more than dryland crop
production) nor include all sectors (as health, education, and industry sectors are not included). Due to data and methodological limitations, this graph does not
imply full comparability of investments across sectors or countries.precise characterization of who and what is at risk—and why.
Source: World Resources Institute. 4 Global Commission on Adaptation
As part of making risk visible, the public and private sectors can
work together to more explicitly price risk in both economic and
financial decision-making. Equally important is to understand
what works and what options to prioritize by supporting
experiential learning, stimulating innovations in science and
technology, sharing solutions, and piloting new business
models and financial services. It is important to consider all
forms of knowledge, recognizing that valuable local knowledge
rests with communities and indigenous populations.
A Revolution in Planning to improve how we make policy and
investment decisions and how we implement solutions. The
climate challenge is both urgent and pervasive across virtually
all economic sectors. Mainstreaming in the public sector
begins with upstream macroeconomic analysis and extends
through risk screening, environmental and social impact
assessments, budgeting, permitting, and project design. Since
many climate impacts are local, devolving planning and even
financial responsibility to those most affected is critical. In the
private sector, companies worldwide are starting to improve
planning to protect their operations and assets from climate
risks, but current levels of physical risk disclosure remain low.
Both the public and private sectors need to learn to better
incorporate high levels of uncertainty in their decision-making,
as choices will need to be made soon between radically
different options—long before we know if the world will
actually be on a 1.5°C or a 4°C pathway.
A Revolution in Finance 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
Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience
September 2019 5
.The public sector, first, is an essential
provider of finance to protect people and livelihoods across
communities and sectors; and second, is an enabler
of increased private sector finance through disclosure
requirements, metrics, and incentives, like buying down the
risk of providing financial services to small-holder producers.
The private sector will increase investments on its own
account, but it should also increasingly complement the
public sector in sharing the costs and benefits of adaptation
investments, such as for infrastructure, contingency finance,
and insurance. Finally, there is a critical need for higher
levels of international financial support for adaptation in
Fully implemented, these three revolutions will protect lives,
livelihoods, homes, and jobs in the face of climate change.
Accelerating Adaptation in Key Systems
We must apply these revolutions to the key systems affected
by climate change: systems that produce food, protect and
manage water and the natural environment, plan and build
our cities and infrastructure, protect people from disasters,
and provide financing for a more resilient future. The report
shows how the climate
crisis is disrupting these systems and offers specific,
actionable recommendations for how to respond.
Food: Global demand for food will increase by 50 percent and
yields may decline by up to 30 percent by 2050 in the absence
of ambitious climate action. A more resilient food future will rely
on sharp increases in agricultural R&D, which has demonstrated
benefit-cost ratios between 2:1 and 17:1; better alignment of
government finance and incentives for farmers with long-term,
sustainable, climate-smart production; and a step change in
access to information, innovative technologies, and finance
to enhance the resilience of 500 million small-scale farming
households whose livelihoods are most critically impacted by
Nature-based solutions regulate
water flows, protect shorelines, cool cities, and complement
built infrastructure. Despite underpinning the resilience
of communities and economies, nature is rapidly being
degraded. Large-scale protection and restoration of nature
will require accelerating progress to meet existing political
commitments, such as through the Convention on Biological
Diversity; appropriately valuing natural assets in land use and
investment decisions; and increasing the scale of public and
private resources to safeguard nature. Many nature-based
adaptation solutions are also beneficial for mitigation and can
provide one-third of the climate mitigation needed between
now and 2030 to keep global warming below 2°C.
Climate change is integrally connected to water
systems and resources. Successful adaptation will require
scaled-up investments in healthy watersheds and water infrastructure, dramatic improvements in efficiency of water use,
and the integration of new climate risks, such as floods and
droughts, at every level of planning and operation. More efficient water allocation and use will be vital to economic growth
in the face of climate change: without such approaches, the
GDPs of India, China and Central Asia would be from 7 to 12
percent lower, and much of Africa would be about 6 percent
lower by 2050. Countries that make water management a top
national priority, backed up by major governance changes and
investments, are more likely to adapt and prosper; those that
do not will experience serious challenges.
Urban areas are home to more than half the global population and are centers of opportunity and innovation. Adaptation
efforts, if designed well, can take advantage of this transformative energy and generate high economic returns. In coastal cities,
for instance, the cost of good adaptation is one-tenth the cost
of no action. To plan and deliver more resilient urban services,
cities everywhere need to invest in better climate risk information and technical capacity, drawing on credible topographic
and community-level data. They should also invest in naturebased solutions to tackle water and heat risks, and in upgrading
the living conditions of the 880 million people living in informal
settlements that are highly vulnerable to climate change.
Infrastructure: Ports, roads, power, sanitation, sewer, and
communications systems are all examples of infrastructure
assets at risk from climate change. Climate-proofing
existing infrastructure and building new infrastructure that
is more climate resilient makes sound economic sense—on
average, the benefits outweigh costs by 4:1. Investments
in infrastructure need to directly build resilience, whether
for storm-water drainage in cities or protecting coastal
communities against sea-level rise. This will require
developing blended public-private approaches that share
the costs and benefits of investing in resilient infrastructure.
Finally, we need to go beyond protecting individual assets to
ensuring that whole systems are more resilient by making the
right choices about where and what to build, which existing
assets to upgrade, prioritizing green infrastructure wherever
possible, and ensuring infrastructure continues to function
even as damages occur.
Global Commission on Adaptation
Disaster Risk Management:
Climate change is often most
visible when seen through changes in the intensity and
frequency of disasters: hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and
wildfires. In the face of more common extreme weather events
and climate-related disasters, we need to prevent, protect and
recover. We need to proactively yet voluntarily move people
and assets out of harm’s way through better planning and
investment decisions. At the same time, we need to scale up
efforts to warn and prepare people ahead of disasters, actions
that can dramatically reduce the loss of life, and exhibit very
high returns on investment. Finally, social safety nets and
improvements in forecast-based planning can help hasten
recovery from disasters when they do strike.
The Way Forward: The Year of Action
While the major transitions proposed in this report will take time
to fully implement, it is essential that they start right away and
with great urgency. For this reason, the Commission*—through
Commissioner commitments and in partnership with others—
will devote the coming 15 months to driving a set of Action
Tracks that are essential to jump-start the needed transitions. In
some cases, these actions will involve mobilizing political, technical, and financial support to existing initiatives; in other cases,
they will entail forging new coalitions for change.
We will support efforts to integrate climate risk into all aspects
of national financial planning and decision-making, while also
calling for significant increases in the volume of devolved and
decentralized funding available to local governments, cities, and
community-based organizations. We will marshal a doubling
of the scale of agricultural research for climate resilience. We
will seek to transform how infrastructure investment decisions
are made. We will call for scaled-up investment to improve
people’s ability to act ahead of extreme weather events, reduce
deaths and human suffering, and lessen economic impacts. We
will galvanize national, local, and private sector leadership for
nature-based solutions. And we will seek to strengthen the resilience of natural freshwater and critical human water systems to
reduce risks for billions of people facing high water stress and
for those whose lives are impacted by floods and droughts.
The next 15 months are critical to mobilizing action on climate
change and support global development. The Commission will
champion the Action Tracks at the UN Climate Action Summit
in September 2019 and throughout the coming year, including
importantly at the Climate Adaptation Summit in the Netherlands
in October 2020. The Commission will also aim to encourage
countries to raise the level of ambition on adaptation in the lead up
to the international climate summit, COP26, in December 2020.
We invite collaboration from all segments of society—governments, the private sector, civil society, and citizens around
the global—to join us in urgently taking this agenda forward.
* In the following paragraphs we use the pronoun “we” to refer to individual or groups of Commissioners, Action Track partners, and Managing Partners as the ones
carrying forward commitments to action—not all members of the Commission or the Commission as whole.
FIGURE ES.2 Adapt Now: The Way Forward
Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience September 2019 7
Note that in a related focus on adaptation, CACOR has published a guidebook for Canadians to help them individually find ways to reduce their own vulnerability to climate change.
This is available for free download on this website.