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Dutch government doubles down on climate adaptation

26 January 2021 Keiron Greenhalgh

The Dutch government is doubling down on its response to the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of putting climate adaptation front and center in recovery measures.

"Climate adaptation is simply too important to postpone [the Climate Adaptation Summit] any longer, so let's all embrace this opportunity," Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, told the virtual summit 25 January.

Alongside her boss, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Van Nieuwenhuizen took to the stage first at what he said was the first such summit, as leaders from across Europe and the globe shone the spotlight on climate adaptation-where projects seek to limit the impact of droughts, floods, and rising sea levels- rather than mitigation.

The UN Environment Programme defines climate adaptation as the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects.

Climate adaptation is "a matter of pure survival" for the Netherlands, Rutte said, adding that "business as usual is no longer an option." The Netherlands' name references its low elevation and flat topography. About a third of the country lies below sea level, according to the government. It has built a renowned system of dikes and flood defenses over the centuries.

Adaptation is the right thing to do, Rutte said, adding that such actions were good value for money, which was why it made sense put to adaptation at the heart of the COVID-19 response. The economic recovery would be resilient and more effective with climate adaptation built in, he said.

"If we don't adapt, the consequences will be disastrous" because there could be a sharp decrease in agricultural yields around the globe, a sharp increase in the number of people who do not have enough water, and 100 million people in developing countries could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030, he said.

Guterres, Moon back efforts

Rutte and Van Nieuwenhuizen were joined on the stage by current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that we cannot afford to ignore known risks and climate disruption is a risk we are very aware of. The science has never been clearer, we are facing a climate emergency and we are already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility affecting lives on all continents."

"I see five priorities to guarantee adaptation and resilience. First, donor countries and multilateral regional and national development banks need to significantly increase the volume and predictability of their financing for adaptation and resilience … adaptation cannot be the neglected half of the climate equation," he said.

"Second, all budget allocations and investment decisions need to be climate resilient, climate risk must be embedded in all procurement processes, particularly for infrastructure. The United Nations system is ready to support this effort worldwide," he said. "Third, we need to significantly scale up existing catastrophe trigger financial instruments … Fourth, we need to ease the access to finance, especially for the most vulnerable …. Finally, we need to support regional adaptation and resilience initiatives."

Support for climate adaptation "is a moral, social and economic imperative," he said, adding that "we have the tools, skills, and opportunities to deliver more, faster, and better adaptation actions."

Gutteres' immediate predecessor Ban Ki-Moon, also the newly launched Global Center of Adaptation's board chair, took the same stance. "The world has a golden opportunity to recover from our health and economic crisis by accelerating adaptation and we must seize it. We need a step-change in adaptation, to protect the world, and especially the most vulnerable people and countries from climate impact," he added.

Moon reflected on opportunities, both in the present, past and future. "When I reflect on how we have responded to this global pandemic and what lessons we might have learnt these past years, one quality shines this, it is the power of global partnership and collaboration," he said.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to highly commend the visionary leadership of President Joe Biden of the United States for his decisive action to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement as the first act of his presidency. This means that multilateralism that has been in disarray during the last four years is now back. Thanks to this spirit of collaboration, we now have promising pathways back to health," Moon said.

"If we can do this to fight the pandemic, we can certainly do this and more to help hundreds of millions of people adapt to the accelerating impact of climate change. We need to start building a better future now. The Paris Agreement recognized that mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand, that they are two equally important building blocks towards a sustainable world that leaves no one behind," he added.

Additional German funds

The Dutch government would be splitting its development aid down the middle between climate adaptation and mitigation, Rutte said, while Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, told conference attendees the country would continue to aid developing nations, promising an additional €150 million (US$182.45 million) in adaptation funding.

Not wishing to be left out, another typical aid donor was on hand to announce a program to help developing nations with climate adaptation. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined his peers from the Netherlands and Germany in addressing attendees, and unveiled an adaptation coalition.

Developed in partnership with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, St. Lucia, and the UN, the coalition will work to turn international political commitments made through the United Nations Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience into on-the-ground support for vulnerable communities, Johnson said.

The UK is working on climate adaptation measure at home too. The British government said in a statement 25 January it had committed an additional £5.2 billion ($7.14 billion) of backing for flood and coastal defense schemes, some of which would have been useful over the past couple of weeks as substantial parts of western and northern England found themselves under water due to a weather system known as Storm Christoph.

"Last week, flood defenses protected tens of thousands of people in England from record river levels during Storm Christoph," UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation Emma Howard Boyd said. "Investments in flood protections help economic development and also improve health and wellbeing by enhancing green and blue spaces."

Posted 26 January 2021 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor



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