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‘Climate adaptation is not defeat, it’s defense’

MAJURO — The level of global action to adapt to climate change must be ramped up to meet the scale of the problem, said the head of the Global Center on Adaptation during a brief stop in the Marshall Islands this week.

CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation Patrick Verkooijen visited Majuro as part of a globe trot to for consultations with world leaders on strategies to step up action on the adaptation front.

“Adaptation is not happening at the scale and speed the world needs,” he said.

Climate adaptation includes numerous initiatives ranging from agriculture production to innovative city design to coastal protection to hold back rising seas.

The Global Center on Adaptation manages the Global Commission on Adaptation that is chaired by former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and two dozen other world leaders.

“Why is Bill Gates on this commission?” he asked. “Gates has never joined a commission before. He joined this one because he wants action.”

The Marshall Islands is seeing an increasing frequency of ocean inundations, including this one in the downtown area of Majuro Atoll in 2014.  Photo by Isaac MartyThe Marshall Islands is seeing an increasing frequency of ocean inundations, including this one in the downtown area of Majuro Atoll in 2014. Photo by Isaac Marty

Verkooijen said the Marshall Islands is now developing an adaptation plan, which is an essential step in the process to getting greater world focus on this need. “This is a test case,” he said. “The world is watching to see how robust it is.”

Some people view climate adaptation as giving up, but Verkooijen sees it differently. “It’s not defeat, it’s defense,” he said. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that even if the world meets the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, there will be dramatic climate impacts globally, he said. Even if the world can hold the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade, it is projected there will be 142 million climate refugees, he said, adding: “It’s smarter to invest in prevention and it’s cheaper.”

Still, close to 85 percent of all climate investments go to mitigation, not adaptation. But this is beginning to change, particularly with the World Bank promising to split its climate funding 50-50 for mitigation and adaptation, said Verkooijen.

“There are so many reasons for the western world to invest in adaptation,” he said. But investment in adaptation continues to lag. Verkooijen said there are many innovative adaptation projects happening around the world, but these need to be ramped up to match the scale of the climate problem the world is facing today. “This is why we need the Hilda Heines of this world to keep banging on the door (about adaptation).”

Verkooijen believes what’s lacking is the economic case for justifying heavy investment in adaptation measures. “We need to make the economic case in a more profound way,” he said.

Verkooijen anticipates returning to Majuro later this year with Global Commission on Adaptation Chairman Ban Ki-moon for further consultations with a nation on the front line of climate change.