Bill Gates launches effort to help the world adapt to climate change

Many people are already facing the impacts of a changing climate and need help adjusting now, world leaders assert.

In Bangladesh, low-lying and vulnerable to yearly flooding, farmers are shifting from raising chickens to raising ducks. Ducks can swim.

In the Philippines, where half the mangrove forests have been lost to development, biologists are replanting the trees to recreate nature’s protective coastal shield against deadly typhoons. The gnarled tangle of mangrove roots slows the movement of tidal waters, reducing the impact of storm surges and waves.

These efforts have been undertaken to ease the pain of climate change. Now world leaders say it’s time to do much more.

Until recently, the consequences of climate change were thought to be so far into the future that many average people, including those who live in coastal zones, declared they needn’t bother; they’d be long dead by the time catastrophe struck.

No more. Climate change is here, costing billions of dollars every year to recover from destructive events. Without adapting to that new reality, the world will confront rising costs of disasters that put economic growth, health, and in some places, even survival at risk. The World Bank estimates that extreme weather events could push 100 million people back into extreme poverty by 2030 if the world fails to adapt.

To spur action, a coalition led by billionaire Bill Gates, former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday launched the Global Commission on Adaptation to lessen the damage.

“Without urgent adaptation and action, we risk undermining food, energy, and water security for decades to come”, Ki-moon said in a briefing. “Adaptation action is not only the right action to do, it is the smart thing. The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual”.

Seeking solutions

The new group, on a two-year mission, intends to bolster funding and search for sensible solutions as practical as Bangladesh’s trading chickens for ducks. The commission has recruited 28 commissioners and political leaders from 17 nations, including Germany, Canada, Mexico, China, India, and Britain. (The United States is not part of the group). Additionally, 25 leaders from around the world, including China’s environment minister, Germany’s economic development minister, and the mayors of Paris and Miami, also signed on to the group.

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This year, on track to become the fourth hottest on record, would seem to make the case for adaptation, as a string of climate-related disasters has played out all over the world. Wildfires spread through drought-stricken California, Sweden, Portugal, and Greece. Heatwaves killed hundreds of people from Japan to Britain. Back-to-back hurricanes in the southeastern United States killed more than 35 people, while one of the most powerful Pacific storms of the year, Typhoon Mangkhut, hit Guam, the Philippines, Hong Kong and southern China.

“We are at a moment of high risk and great promise”, Gates said in a statement. “We need policies to help vulnerable populations adapt and we need to ensure that governments ... are … supporting innovation and helping deliver those breakthroughs to … places that need them the most”.

The commission will spend a year sorting out the best adaptation approaches and present a plan to the 2019 United Nations climate summit.

Like “walking and breathing”

The trio’s call for adaptation, coming on the heels of last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warned the world has little time to respond to a warming planet, might signal a note of despair.

But Georgieva said that’s not the case. “For quite a while there has been that sense that if we adapt, that means we are accepting defeat against climate change”, she said at the briefing. “It is not defeat, it is reality”.

RELATED: PHOTOS OF EXTREME WEATHER

A supercell thunderstorm strikes in South Dakota. Among the most severe storms, supercells can bring strong winds, hail, and even tornadoes. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM REED, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Even if efforts to reduce carbon emissions succeed and the goal of keeping global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius is achieved, changes already locked into planetary systems carry significant consequences that argue for the need for adaptation, Georgieva said. She added the world is capable of doing both tasks at the same time, like “walking and breathing”.

“We are the last generation that can change the course of climate change, that can mitigate climate change effectively and the first generation that has to live with the consequences”, she said. “It has to be mitigate and adapt at the same time”.

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