A new international commission is sounding the alarm bell that countries need to act now and adapt to the harsh realities of climate change.
This commission was launched on October 16 by the Dutch minister of Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen.
The Global Commission on Adaptation, convened by The Netherlands, Bangladesh, China, the United Kingdom, Senegal and several others, is raising the visibility of climate adaptation and focusing on developing solutions and accelerating actions for nations that are in the throes of grappling with climate change.
The need for a global commission that pushes countries to take immediate action is abundantly clear after a spate of weather and climate extremes.
This year alone, a heatwave wracked Europe, with The Netherlands hit by record-breaking heat in July at the same time it recorded its lowest rainfall level since 1976. The country experienced 13 days in July with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius.
Also this summer, California and Indonesia battled raging wildfires, extraordinary flooding hit Japan and India and massive hurricanes brought death and destruction. Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa are facing food shortages after two years of drought.
It’s not just lives that are being lost. Weather-related disasters are taking a toll on economies.
In a report this year, the World Economic Forum ranked extreme weather events as the greatest risk for economic prosperity.
In the United States, for example, the cumulative cost of annual disasters exceeded $300 billion in 2017. The new IPCC report that came out on October 8 this year, shows that the 1.5 degree Celcius ambition of the Paris Climate
Agreement is still far away. Even if countries meet the Paris goal, the effects of global warming will continue to manifest and intensify.
As the seas rise, the planet will face not just extreme weather, but the loss vast amounts of the world’s coastline, changing crop patterns, disrupted ecosystems and the spread of tropical diseases into temperate climates.
The fact is, this is Earth’s new normal and few nations are ready for it. Cities, suburbs and farms lack the climate-resilient infrastructure needed to manage the magnitude of storms, heatwaves and flooding produced by global warming.
Governments and industry have yet to secure vital inter-continental supply chains vulnerable to weather events.
And the world’s markets are unprepared for the vagaries of unpredictable crop yields, unprecedented insurance claims and the new risk assessments required by climate change.
Just as problematic, nations have not planned for the immense international aid that will be needed when drought and starvation overwhelm the world’s hottest (and often poorest) countries. And few have acknowledged the likelihood of mass migration and environmental refugees forced to flee unendurable conditions.
It’s a daunting a picture. The world must and without delay adapt.
Some countries are taking the lead. Chief among them is The Netherlands. Sitting below sea-level in some areas, the Dutch have always, by necessity, managed encroaching.
In addition to the phenomenal engineering of the Maeslantkering, a vast moveable sea wall, the country has built a system of pumping stations and sluices that can move flood water into parks and recreation zones designed to do double-duty as reservoirs.
The lowest lying city in the country, Rotterdam, has several of these so-called water plazas as well as a popular park incorporated into a massive dike. The city has plans for floating houses, a floating park, and one local entrepreneur hopes to build a floating dairy.
Government leaders from around the globe are visiting these sites, hoping to learn how they, too, can avert the danger and disruption of rising rivers and seas.
The preparedness and ingenuity of the Dutch are the exception, not the rule and are worth learning from. Most of the world’s governments, businesses and communities are still woefully under-prepared.
Few realize that the decisions made today will affect the security of food, water and energy in the coming decades – especially for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
The good news is that via the commission, experts are coming together to explain why accelerated action and a focus on solutions is essential and to identify exactly how governments, companies and citizens can implement solutions to ensure their communities are prepared for new climate patterns.
As the chair and initiating commissioner, we will be joined by Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva to prod world leaders to take immediate action.
This Commission will champion the idea that preparing for climate risks cannot be done by just one agency or ministry but rather requires transforming how societies invest and plan.
It will demonstrate through rigorous analysis that the costs of adapting are less than the costs of business as usual and the benefits many times larger. It will show that helping the poorest and most vulnerable nations adapt is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
The time has passed for more talk. The world must heed the call to accelerate adaptation action. Further delay in adapting on a grand scale is a direct threat to the lives of millions, if not hundreds of millions.
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations and, with Bill Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, is overseeing the Global Commission on Adaptation. Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen is the Minister of Water and Infrastructure for the Government of the Netherlands and the initiating commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation.