The world’s readiness for the inevitable effects of the climate crisis is “gravely insufficient”, according to a report from global leaders.
This lack of preparedness will result in poverty, water shortages and levels of migration soaring, with an “irrefutable toll on human life”, the report warns.
Trillion-dollar investment is needed to avert “climate apartheid”, where the rich escape the effects and the poor do not, but this investment is far smaller than the eventual cost of doing nothing.
The study says the greatest obstacle is not money but a lack of “political leadership that shakes people out of their collective slumber”.
A “revolution” is needed in how the dangers of global heating are understood and planned for, and solutions are funded.
The report has been produced by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), convened by 18 nations.
It has contributions from the former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, environment ministers from China, India and Canada, the heads of the World Bank and the UN climate and environment divisions, and others.
Among the most urgent actions recommended are early-warning systems of impending disasters, developing crops that can withstand droughts and restoring mangrove swamps to protect coastlines, while other measures include painting roofs of homes white to reduce heatwave temperatures.
In the foreword to the report, Ban, Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank chief executive, write: “The climate crisis is here, now: massive wildfires ravage fragile habitats, city taps run dry, droughts scorch the land and massive floods destroy people’s homes and livelihoods. So far the response has been gravely insufficient”.
Ban said: “I am really concerned about the lack of vision of political leaders. They are much more interested in getting elected and re-elected, and climate issues are not in their priorities. We are seeing this in the US with President Trump”.
The report says severe effects are now inevitable and estimates that unless precautions are taken, 100 million more people could be driven into poverty by 2030.
It says the number of people short of water each year will jump by 1.4 billion to 5 billion, causing unprecedented competition for water, fuelling conflict and migration.
On the coasts, rising sea levels and storms will drive hundreds of millions from their homes, with costs of US$1 trillion a year by 2050.
Patrick Verkooijen, the chief executive of the Global Centre on Adaptation, said: “What we truly see is the risk of a climate apartheid, where the wealthy pay to escape and the rest are left to suffer. That is a very profound moral injustice.”
But the moral imperative alone will not drive change, he said, and the report also makes an economic case.
“It is a nation’s self-interest to invest in adaptation,” Verkooijen said.
The report estimates spending US$1.8 trillion by 2030 in five key areas could yield US$7.1 trillion in net benefits, by avoiding damages and increasing economic growth.
The GCA report, which was released ahead of a UN summit on climate change later this month, focuses on several areas of adaptation:
Early warning systems
Just 24 hours’ warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent, saving lives and protecting assets worth at least 10 times the cost of the alert system.
In Bangladesh, such systems, plus shelters and coastal protection, have already saved hundreds of thousands of lives since the Bhola cyclone in 1970 killed at least 300,000 people.
Such measures can add 3 per cent to the upfront costs but save US$4 for every US$1 spent. Flood protection is key and Shanghai, and other Chinese “sponge cities” are deploying porous pavements, rooftop gardens and trees in parks to soak up water from downpours.
Relatively simple measures can also be effective, such as painting roofs with reflective white paint. In the Indian city of Ahmedabad, this has cut temperatures in the rooms below by 5 degrees Celsius.
These coastal forests buffer storms, protecting 18 million people and preventing US$80 billion a year in flood damage. They also provide nurseries for fish and tourist attractions worth billions.
But construction, pollution and global heating have destroyed many mangrove forests, from Australia to Mexico.
The GCA says the benefits of mangrove preservation and restoration are up to 10 times the cost.