Climate campaigners in Lisbon last year. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis/Getty Images
More than 1 million young people around the world have urged governments to prioritise measures to protect against the ravages of climate breakdown during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
World leaders are due to meet by video link on Monday to consider how to adapt to the extreme weather, wildfires and floods that have become more common as temperatures rise. Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary general, will lead the Climate Adaptation Summit, and leaders including Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi are expected to attend.
Ban said: “We must remember there is no vaccine to fix our changing climate. As climate change impacts continue to intensify, we must put adaptation on an equal footing with [cutting emissions]. Building resilience to climate change impacts is not a nice-to-have, it is a must, if we are to live in a sustainable and secure world.”
He said efforts to repair the damage done to economies by Covid-19 were in danger of compounding the problem. “I am deeply concerned that in domestic stimulus plans dirty measures that increase carbon emissions outnumber green initiatives by four to one,” he said.
Patrick Verkooijen, the chief executive of the Global Centre on Adaptation, said it was time to redirect spending. “As governments begin to invest trillions of dollars to recover from the pandemic, they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a more resilient, climate-smart future – to build adaptation in the next round of fiscal stimulus,” he said. “A coordinated green resilient infrastructure push with the right policy incentives could boost global GDP by 0.7% in the first 15 years and create millions of jobs.”
Climate-related disasters are estimated to have cost about $650bn (£474bn) globally in the past three years, amounting to more than 0.25% of total GDP. The UN has warned that by 2040 damages associated with climate breakdown could soar to $54tn.
Activists from the Youth Adaptation Network signed a call to action urging government interventions over the next decade “to prepare younger generations for the transition towards green and climate-resilient development”.
They called for a greater focus on climate change in education around the world, and for educational resources to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change to be provided online. They also called for more funding for projects that increase resilience to the impacts of climate breakdown.
Many of the measures needed to reduce people’s vulnerability to extreme weather are well understood and relatively cheap to implement, from early warning systems against storms, to planting trees that help prevent flooding and landslides, or regrowing coastal mangrove swamps that provide a natural barrier to storm surges and sea level rises.
However, despite their proven efficacy, little funding is available for taking such preventive measures. A recent report from the UN Environment Programme found that the world was badly lagging behind on the actions needed.
The youth document called for “a timely and innovative financing mechanism, and technical assistance to support youth-focused projects that build resilience and adaptive capacity among marginalised communities”, and for assistance to young people in vulnerable communities seeking to install adaptation measures.
The need for adaptation measures is increasing. Last year saw numerous examples of escalating extreme weather around the world, from a heatwave in Siberia to devastating wildfires in Australia and the US, a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, and storms and floods in Asia. The pandemic took a further toll on the ability of many countries to cope with these disasters, according to a report on climate adaptation to be presented at the summit.
“Extreme climate events compounded the challenges of responding to the pandemic in 2020. Evacuating populations from the path of cyclones, hurricanes with the threat of contagion. Covid-19 and climate disasters intersected to create a set of cascading risks, highlighting the interconnected nature of the impact of systemic shocks and the importance of a coordinated global and local response,” the report said.
Thousands of scientists from around the world, including four Nobel prize winners, have signed a separate call to world leaders at the summit, demanding that adaptation be prioritised.
They said in their statement: “As our failed response to the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, the world is simply not ready to face the investable impacts of our climate emergency. Unless we step up and adapt now, the results will be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricultural losses and soaring levels of migration with an enormous toll on human life.
“We must avoid inaction where those who are not rich lose out, and cannot react in the timeframe necessary and without resources to make the required changes.”