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UN Launches International Commission to Help Earthlings Adapt to Climate Change

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To address climate change, we’ve got two options. We can reduce our carbon pollution, and we can adapt to changes we’re already seeing. Money is pouring into the former bucket to the tune of nearly $280 billion in 2017, but the adaptation tap is running much drier. A first of its kind United Nations (UN)-led effort aims to change all that.

Announced Tuesday, the Global Commission on Adaptation aims to fund climate adaptation projects and educate policymakers about various adaptation options. And it’s being backed by some of the wealthiest and most powerful names in the game. The partnership includes the head of the UN and World Bank, Bill Gates, and other luminaries, as well as leaders in local climate adaptation like the mayors of Miami and Paris.


“We are on a critical mission to increase ambition and accelerate all adaptation action,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a call with reporters detailing the new commission.

That critical nature of the adaptation mission is highlighted by the fact the window to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change by reducing carbon pollution is rapidly closing. Absent some serious course correction, we’re headed to a more future where extreme weather becomes more frequent or fierce. A World Bank summary published with the announcement notes that 100 million people could be forced into poverty by climate change by 2030 if nothing is done to reduce the risks they face.


The first thing to come out of the new commission is a report next year that takes stock of climate adaptation efforts to date. That will be followed by a year of targeting key adaptation players around the world dealing with all sorts of issues from how to make agriculture, cities, and supply chains more resilient to how raise money for adaptation projects by leaning on development banks, finance ministries, and private sector companies and banks.

The group convening the adaptation commission doesn’t just represent developed countries. Developing countries on the front lines of climate change, like Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands, are helping set the agenda. That’s particularly meaningful for helping disseminate adaptation projects that can be done on the cheap. In Bangladesh, for example, some farmers have turned from raising chickens to ducks because the latter can stay afloat in the seasonal floods that hit the country.

The idea of an effort like this would’ve seemed verboten even a decade ago because of the fear that it would distract from efforts to cut carbon emissions. But with annual emissions reaching yet another record in 2017, it’s become sadly clear that our efforts to cut carbon won’t be enough.