Adaptation is not happening nearly as fast as it is needed. We have focused extensively on the causes of climate change, as well as the emissions and mitigation strategies, but we can no longer delay focusing on the consequences, and that means focusing on adaptation.
I am writing this on a flight to Mendoza, a beautiful province of Argentina known internationally for its wine, its dramatic landscapes, its ski resorts, and a thriving energy industry.
Unfortunately, my trip is unrelated to any of these things as Mendoza is facing "a new climate normal" with its water levels remaining below the historical average for the tenth year in a row.
In fact, a recent scientific study shows that this is the longest drought to hit the region in more than 600 hundred years. If we don't move quickly into adaptation mode, the Mendoza I know today is not going to be there in the future, and the same applies to many of the places we know and love around the world. To put it another way, "it’s adaptation stupid".
Increase of floods, droughts, storms and extreme temperatures
Adaptation is mainly about water because climate change is the driving force behind the extremes and uncertainty in the water cycle. The number of weather-related disasters – floods, droughts, storms and extreme temperatures – has increased by a factor of five over the past 50 years, claiming, on average, the lives of 115 people and causing $202 million in economic losses every day. This is the ‘new normal’ and we have to deal with it.
We are [in] the 27th edition of the Climate COP, and two conclusions are self-evident. On the one hand, climate change is happening, and its consequences are very significant, and on the other hand, we have failed to secure real commitment to reduce emissions and even less so to start adapting our economies to the impacts of climate change.
While most people understand the need for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, they do not realize, or in some cases accept, that we're on an unavoidable climate change trajectory and must adapt to avoid wide-scale suffering as its impacts intensify.
Switching to adaptation mode requires us to do several things. To start with, we need a new and more ambitious adaptation agenda that prizes efficiency through developing and adopting new technologies in areas like data gathering and intelligence, infrastructure maintenance and collective intelligence. The need for efficiency can also be translated at an economic level through reduced water footprints across industries and the building of more and better infrastructure like dams and desalination plants.
New water markets
Science, knowledge, and data are central to framing this agenda. We need many more institutions working on linking the water cycle changes with the economy on critical issues such as food, energy, industrial water demand and health.
As for the allocation of public and private resources, the multilaterals and the Green Climate Fund are making some headway but have yet to significantly impact the speed at which we adapt to climate change. We need to upgrade their resources and enhance their capacity to allocate funds.
New water markets must be part of the adaptation agenda of the future to allow private sector companies to invest in more ambitious and deal-breaking projects. This can include payment for saving water and reducing the histological footprint, for creating new infrastructure or technological capacities for dealing with climate change, as well as developing blended financing to foster private investment, among other policies.
At the end of the day, it is a matter of valuing water. I am not talking about selling and buying water in a private market but of sending the right signals for aligning behaviours and for inducing investments. It is a basic tenet of efficiency that you don't care about overconsumption or even reducing leakage if you don't have to pay the real price for it.
If we are to adapt to this “new normal”, we must have institutions within our governments that have the clout and decision-making power to renovate the water utilities so that the management of water at the city and metropolitan levels can adapt to the consequences of climate change, from diminishing resources to having to implement circular economy measures to reduce the energy and ecological footprints.
At the international level, we need to move from a primarily scientific discussion that has been so positive for installing and understanding climate change to an implementation agenda. We need engineering, entrepreneurs, and financial institutions to realise that this is a new central profit-making economic activity in the next decades and, therefore to adapt capitalism along these lines.
Last but not least, this is not an exclusively developing world issue because all countries will face these choices and challenges, although it is true that many developing world countries are facing it without having emitted much greenhouse gases. Moving into "adaptation mode" represents a great opportunity for reshaping capitalism, solving many of our problems and generating economic growth and employment. The Global Water Partnership, for its part, has supported over 80 countries in managing their water resources through national water management policies and plans, investment plans, and river basin management strategies, and we will continue to support an accelerated adaptation agenda. I hope to start to see way more of these topics in this and future COPs.
This article is also published by News24. Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.