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From Mitigation to Adaptation - Selin Kumbaracı

Last Friday, the United Nations released a report showcasing how the updated national climate plans—or nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—submitted by 75 of the 191 countries party to the Paris Agreement, will do almost nothing to lower emissions within the next ten years.

The countries that submitted their updated NDCs by the deadline that the UN set amounted to about 30% of global emissions. According to the UN report, the cumulative effect of these new pledges would result in a fall of 2.8% in emissions by 2030, compared to the previous pledges.

Based on the existing pledges, the current trajectory would result in warming of about 3°C, as opposed to Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to 2°C, and preferably 1.5°C. If warming were to increase by 2°C, it would threaten low-lying island states given sea-level rise. To limit warming to the ideal scenario of 1.5°C, there would need to be a drop of 45% in CO2 emissions (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030, with net-zero emissions being achieved by 2050.

As the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa said, current national efforts, as reflected by the updated climate pledges (or lack thereof) are “simply not good enough.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also expressed his concern, calling the report “a red alert for our planet.” Given the bleak outlook, there seems to be an increasing emphasis by the European Union on climate change adaptation, in addition to their already-ambitious mitigation efforts. Indeed, the EU was the only party to the Paris Agreement among the four largest CO2 emitters to submit an updated climate pledge.

This emphasis on adaptation is especially in the limelight given how countries in Europe, not just small island states, for instance, are being increasingly impacted by climate change, such as with increasing forest fires, droughts in the Mediterranean region, and hurricanes in the EU’s outermost regions, according to the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. Indeed, in 2019—declared at the time as being Europe’s warmest year on record—there were 2500 deaths resulting from the heatwave.

According to the European Commission, there is also a very concrete price tag on the impact of the level of warming predicted by the UN report given current pledges—3°C—on the EU: an annual loss of at least 170 billion euros. The above concerns combine to understand that current mitigation efforts regarding reduction in emissions are not working, or at least not working fast enough.

The Commission outlines several important points in the EU’s new adaptation strategy, particularly in relation to the role of the private sector and insurance industry in the adaptation process and the role of the EU in supporting developing countries beyond its borders in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

According to the Commission, only 35% of economic losses incurred from disasters related to climate change are insured on average throughout the EU, with this figure dropping as low as 5% in some Member States.

As such, an aim is to reduce this climate protection gap, referring to the share of non-insured economic losses resulting from climate-related disasters, especially by “Using insurance as a risk-transfer mechanism to absorb financial losses related to climate risks,” characterized as a sort of, “the first step from crisis reaction towards risk management and anticipation,” as stated in the adaptation strategy.

The strategy also emphasized the importance of supporting developing countries, acknowledging how external action needs to more effectively aim for adaptation, “leaving no one and no place behind.” This is particularly significant due to how it is usually the measures aiming to reduce emissions—such as renewable investments— that get funds, as opposed to measures targeting adaptation.

However, under the modified strategy, such adaptation efforts are the ones that are underlined, with the report stating that “The EU will provide targeted support to partner countries to help unlock existing and new financial resources towards climate adaptation.”

In a meeting convened by the Netherlands last month, such a focus was also front and center. It took place on the same day that the EU foreign ministers approved increasing finance provided to developing countries to help them cope with the effects of climate change.

As Frans Timmermans, the Commissioner responsible for the European Green Deal, acknowledged, a decisive factor in whether or not the Paris Agreement will be a success lies in if the EU is able to “put enough efforts in adaptation strategies, not just in Europe, but also especially in the developing world.”

While there is some controversy over the Commission not moving forward with concrete regulation, utilizing ‘soft’ measures instead (like making climate insurance products better), the insurance industry warns against a “one-size-fits-all” solution imposed by Brussels.

On the other hand, there have been calls for binding measures by those such as an MEP from the Greens/EFA group, Michael Bloss, who has argued that the reason behind why billions of euros in climate damages were paid to affects farmers and foresters last year is, “our timid efforts to tackle climate change.”

Overall, though, the new adaptation strategy of the EU is more or less seen as a much-needed development by both sides, especially in light of the recent UN report highlighting the difficulties in living up to climate targets. Time will tell whether or not the Commission eventually decides to roll out binding regulation on this matter—though one would hope that there would not be a need to.


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