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Saving lives and livelihoods: The benefits of investments in climate change adaptation and resilience, March 2021

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Summary

Adaptation to and resilience against the impacts of climate change are urgent and growing priorities around the world as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase. Impacts such as sea level rise and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heavy rainfall, tropical storms and heatwaves, are a threat to lives and livelihoods around the world. These impacts undermine economic development and efforts to eliminate poverty and raise living standards. Indeed, efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals are being harmed by climate change impacts that are already occurring. It is the poorest people in every country who are usually most vulnerable and exposed to these impacts. And these impacts will continue to grow until global emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced effectively to [net] zero. Investing in climate change adaptation and resilience can be an extremely cost-effective way of protecting communities, livelihoods and businesses, and promoting economic development and growth.

Case study findings

This report highlights six case studies of successful climate change adaptation and resilience, mostly in developing countries. We assess the impacts of specific adaptation and resilience processes, the benefits gained and the lessons learned.

Some highlights from the six case studies include:

  • In Ahmedabad, India, a city-led Heat Action Plan has significantly reduced heat-related mortality and morbidity, with an estimated 1,190 average deaths avoided per year. The Plan has helped businesses avoid significant negative impacts on productivity, as well as indirectly creating employment opportunities, including for women and small businesses. The Plan also led to a focus on other health risks, such as poor air quality, with the development of a similar programme to combat air pollution, building on the capacity and networks developed by the Heat Action Plan. The Plan has now been used as a model for more than 100 other heat-vulnerable cities and districts in India, and lessons have been taken up at the national level, as well as applied in other heat-vulnerable countries.

  • In arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, devolved climate financing has helped to increase water availability, leading to increased food security, cleaner water supplies and fewer livestock deaths, as well as strengthening and diversifying livelihoods. It has reduced reliance on migration as a coping mechanism, strengthened education opportunities, and has encouraged co-investments at the local level. The design of the funding mechanism has enhanced community-driven planning, local ownership and inclusion, including ensuring greater engagement from women and young people in planning processes. It has helped to integrate climate action into other planning and budgetary processes, and to support transparency and accountability in governance processes. The financing mechanism is now being scaled up nationwide.

  • In Da Nang, Vietnam, a micro-credit and technical assistance programme has developed typhoon-resilient housing in vulnerable areas of the city. The houses engaged in the programme were able to withstand Typhoon Nari in 2013 without damage, while houses in other areas collapsed, had their roofs torn off and were flooded. The protected households reported feeling safer and more secure, meaning they were more able to be involved in income-generation activities. The intervention attracted further investment to encourage households to take up more resilient housing and was built on by the city government to develop a financial resilience strategy for Da Nang. The Government also adopted a new regulation requiring storm-resilient techniques in construction. The Da Nang Women’s Union, a key delivery partner, has developed its capacity through the programme and is now a significant agent of change in climate change resilience for poor and vulnerable households in the city.

  • In the Thames Estuary, UK, long-term planning for flood risk management, including protection from surge tides, has averted serious flooding in London and the estuary area. Assessment of the value of future avoided losses also indicates substantial benefits, including avoided fatalities and maintaining investor confidence, with indirect impacts on business of between £53bn and £58bn. The Plan – innovative at the time of development – has been replicated in other world cities such as New York, and has provided an important example of how to ensure long-term political support for adaptation measures. The adaptive pathways approach taken has ensured the effective and efficient use of public funds, and the inbuilt review process has supported collaboration with a range of key stakeholders, including businesses, councils, communities and non-governmental organisations.

  • In Beira, Mozambique, a holistic approach to urban flood risk, including combining engineering and nature-based interventions, has prevented the occurrence of previously frequent flooding. It has created direct and indirect employment opportunities, including establishing the area as more conducive for businesses, and has improved housing conditions and decreased health risks related to flood water, like cholera. The creation of an urban park aims to create environmental benefits by lowering temperatures, supporting biodiversity, and promoting cleaner air, while also retaining water and providing a public space for social and cultural activities. The networks and capacity built by the adaptation process have supported the development of a comprehensive disaster response plan following Cyclone Idai, and lessons are being shared with other cities with similar risk profiles in the region.

  • In the state of Odisha, India, decades of action to reduce the vulnerability of coastal communities to cyclones has seen drastic decreases in death tolls. In 2019 Cyclone Fani brought 64 fatalities whereas a cyclone of comparable strength in 1999 caused more than 8,900 deaths. 16,737 hectares of agricultural land were protected during Cyclone Fani, including against the salinisation of soils and water sources, with a greater proportion of livestock and property also protected. Multi-purpose cyclone shelters form a variety of roles for communities when not being used as shelters, including for education and health purposes, and have contributed to local capacity-building and social cohesion. Improvements in roads and bridges to increase connectivity to shelters has also improved access to markets, schools and medical centres.

All six of these examples demonstrate the value of adaptation and resilience to prevent loss, damage and suffering. Yet it is widely acknowledged that not enough is being invested in these ex-ante measures to prevent and limit climate- and weather-related disasters now and in the future, despite clear evidence that they are more cost-effective than ex-post, emergency responses.