We Must Invest More in Climate Adaptation

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As California communities begin to recover after a series of atmospheric rivers caused death and immense economic damages nearly state-wide, we must reckon with the need to increase investment in climate change adaptation and resilience.

The Newsom Administration’s proposed 2023-2024 budget, released two weeks ago, maintains significant funding for fighting climate change and protecting communities from its impacts.  Yet it still reflects difficult decisions to decrease funding for extreme heat and community resilience, nature-based solutions, coastal resilience, and other strategies that help us adapt to the climate impacts already upon us. While the Governor seeks additional sources of funding from the federal government and is exploring a bond option with the State legislature, climate adaptation is not solely the responsibility of government.

The private sector – including philanthropy – can lead investments in the health and security of our communities, especially those who are disproportionately burdened by climate impacts. A recent study showed that climate mitigation philanthropy from individuals and foundations represented less than 2% of global philanthropic giving. Climate philanthropy directed towards adaptation is likely even less. Last year, the IPCC found that insufficient financing was a key driver of adaptation gaps, with private sector contributions representing only 1% of adaptation financing in 2018. Private philanthropy and business can be part of the solution.

Why is investing in climate adaptation so urgent?

The most aggressive and successful greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies will do little to significantly abate the impacts of climate change for a generation or more. In the meantime, we are once again reminded that communities need protection from the ravages of our climate crisis today.

Climate change is increasing the risks of, and impacts from, natural disasters, including the intensification of extreme precipitation from atmospheric rivers drenching the state. Last year, the United States experienced 18 separate weather and climate disasters each costing at least $1 billion, and current estimates of damages from these storms in California exceed $30 billion. These are not isolated events, nor the last gasps of worsening climate trendlines. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models for increasingly stringent greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies show global surface temperatures rising until at least 2050. The stark truth is that aggressive climate mitigation efforts alone will not provide relief from the increasingly damaging impacts of extreme weather events – including flooding, drought, and wildfires – for decades. Socially vulnerable communities, including low-income communities of color and older Americans, are especially at risk from the impacts of rising temperatures.

Investment in adaptation must come before it is too late for communities to thrive, or even survive. The federal government recently announced $75 million in funding to support community relocation of the Newtok and Napakiak villages in Alaska, and the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington, due to climate impacts that imperil their communities’ existence. This retreat to higher ground should be a wake-up call for all of us.

Climate adaptation options help families and communities struggling with climate impacts in their homes, schools, and workplaces. They bind communities with adjacent and distant ecosystems essential for food security, biodiversity, public health, and economic sustainability. Simply put, these are the critical coping strategies designed to help communities today, and for years to come.

Last November the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 established a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters, which the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary said was to “address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change.”  This fund is in addition to international emissions reduction and mitigation obligations made by governments party to the UN climate framework.

Californians and communities throughout the United States – are also experiencing loss and damage from ongoing climate disasters, and we must equitably invest in climate adaptation while we invest in transformational mitigation strategies. We can, and must, do both.

This op-ed by Avi Garbow appeared in the Sacramento Bee on February 15, 2023: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article271647042.html