The world is in the midst of economic crisis, but for Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), it would be a grave mistake if this were to sideline the issue of climate change.
Not only because the costs of climate change are unbearable to imagine, especially for countries in the developing world who are the least responsible but the most impacted, but also because the economic returns of investing in adaptation are so great.
By his estimates, a dollar invested in weather and climate information services gives $4-$25 in benefits. A dollar invested in resilient water and sanitation not only saves lives, but it also creates $2-$12 in economic benefits. Africa loses $7-$15bn annually due to climate change.
Considering that countries managed to raise trillions of dollars to support their economies during Covid, adaptation should not be so hard to sell. But it still is.
Mainstreaming climate adaptation
The GCA was launched in 2018 with the aim of mainstreaming adaptation in national policy-making in order to boost resilience and ultimately save lives and resources. From its headquarters in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, it builds alliances with public and private agencies around the world, driving joint action towards its mission of adaptation. In September it hosted the Africa Adaptation Summit to mobilise more commitments towards adaptation projects for the continent.
Verkooijen is no stranger to these efforts, having been engaged in various roles over the last three decades. As the World Bank’s special representative for climate change he canvassed the support of world leaders for the expansion of carbon pricing to cover 25% of global emissions by 2030.
He says he is ever more determined to push for the goals enshrined in the Paris Climate agreement. Even if all the commitments are reached, it seems the world may not be able to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
This will have direct and dire consequences for people in Africa, who contribute the least to global warming and yet have the most to lose from rising temperatures. Of the 10 most vulnerable countries in the world, nine are in Africa. Verkooijen believes the rest of the world must recognise Africa’s exposure and meet the commitments they themselves have made.
One of these commitments is finance. Adaptation costs money. Verkooijen’s estimate is that implementing climate smart agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa will cost $15bn a year. If this sounds daunting, then the cost of inaction is even more so.
“The economic costs of not acting will be$200bn a year. It makes simple economic sense to invest in climate smart agriculture but there is a need for the global community to finance this upfront cost of $15bn a year,” he explains.
Currently, only $11bn, mainly from multilateral development banks and national governments, is spent on adaptation in Africa, well short of the $52bn that the continent needs across all sectors. As this funding gap grows exponentially every year, there is a need to find more money from other sources including the private sector and the international capital markets. Nonetheless, even if there are strong economic incentives, much of the funding will have to be concessional or grant-based, at least at first.
Funding is available from sources such as the Green Climate Fund, but African countries are unable to access much of it because of the complicated accreditation procedure. To address this, the GCA, through the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP), provides the technical assistance that nations and intuitions need to gain access to these funds.
Beyond that, it also assists them to develop the complex proposals that they need to present to procure the finance that is needed right where it is needed most and that is Africa, which he refers to as “Ground Zero” of the climate emergency.
Local knowledge is essential
Critically, Verkooijen thinks local knowledge and insight cannot be ignored.
“The people best equipped to understand the climate impact on local communities are the very people in those local communities themselves. They know best and they should be empowered much more profoundly in determining how these resources are applied,” he stresses.
Locally led adaptation is taking root in Africa and also in Bangladesh, allowing local communities a say in how their problems are addressed. While there is still some way to go, GCA has embraced the role of connecting financiers, national and subnational governments and local communities.
Apart from advocacy, agenda-setting and providing evidence to back up its advocacy, GCA is also involved directly in adaptation planning. This means designing and activating development programmes with the benefit of a climate perspective.
Verkooijen provides an example: “If the World Bank is developing an infrastructure programme in Ghana, it is vital to consider not only the floods of today but the flood systems of tomorrow. And that’s what we do so we need to have our boots on the ground when these programmes are being developed to provide a climate lens and the evidence so that the best, road tested adaptation are used.”
The AAAP, which is a joint initiative between GCA and the African Development Bank (AfDB), is also working to mobilise $25bn by 2025 to accelerate climate adaptation across Africa. In the last 18 months, it has brought its influence to bear on about $3.5bn of investment in resilient infrastructure, climate smart agriculture and youth entrepreneurship.
Even if this is relatively small in light of what is needed, Verkooijen is proud of it and also proud that their activities are leading directly to the creation of jobs for the youth of Africa in adaptation-related jobs. “At the end of the day, adaptation may sound abstract but it is really about jobs, about growth, about health and about development, so success stories need to be assessed against these parameters,” he emphasises.
Key priority at Cop27
Looking ahead to Cop27 Verkooijen is very clear what needs to be done. “An African Cop can only mean adaptation, because it is the key priority of the African continent,” he says.
At the September summit, which was co-chaired by President Macky Sall of Senegal, chairman of the African Union, the continent’s political leaders coalesced around the urgency of financing adaptation in Africa.
For Verkooijen, this can only mean one thing: “Cop27 has to deliver on adaptation for Africa in terms of finance. And given that AAAP has been endorsed by the AU and hence the continent, the litmus test of success or failure for Cop27 is whether it will be capitalised by the global community.”
To drive this agenda, Verkooijen, along with President Sall, President Macron of France, Mark Rutte, prime ministr of The Netherlands, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the AfDB, and other leaders, is planning a dialogue during Cop27 where heads of state will be asked to commit to providing the resources that Africa needs for adaptation.
When asked whether he remains optimistic or concerned having seen how things have evolved over the last two decades, Verkooijen says he prefers to just deal with the facts in front of us today. On a more optimistic note, he is confident that the message will resonate where it needs to because despite competing priorities in a complex global environment, there really is no path forward for the world that does not go through adaptation.
“At the end of the day, there is no way to prosperity without addressing the climate emergency. So the choice is very simple: we either delay now or end up paying later or we plan and prosper,” he points out.
At Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Verkooijen will employ all his negotiating and persuasive skills to get leaders to agree a clear road map for implementing their climate commitments. Some are calling the event “Africa’s Cop” but what it really has to be is the “implementation Cop”.