Six years ago, in Paris, the countries of the world committed themselves to avoiding the worst of that nightmare by eliminating net greenhouse-gas emissions quickly enough to hold the temperature rise below 2C. Their progress towards that end remains woefully inadequate. Yet even if their efforts increased dramatically enough to meet the 2C goal, it would not stop forests from burning today; prairies would still dry out tomorrow, rivers break their banks and mountain glaciers disappear. Cutting emissions is thus not enough. The world also urgently needs to invest in adapting to the changing climate. The good news is that adaptation makes political sense. People can clearly see the need for it. When a country invests in flood defences it benefits its own citizens above all others — there is no free-rider problem, as there could be for emissions reduction. Nor does all the money come from the public purse; companies and private individuals can see the need for adaptation and act on it. When they do not do so, insurance companies can open their eyes to the risks they are running.
Some adaptation is fairly easily set in place. Systems for warning Germans of coming floods will surely now improve. But other problems require much larger public investment, like that which has been put into water-management in the Netherlands. Rich countries can afford such things. Poor countries and poor people need help, which is why the Paris climate agreement calls for annual transfers of $100bn from rich to poor. The rich countries have not yet lived up to their side of this. On July 20th John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change, reiterated America’s pledge to triple its support to $1.5bn for adaptation in poorer countries by 2024, part of a broader move to increase investment in adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. More such efforts are vital.
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