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Beyond borders: why adapting to climate change should be a global endeavour

By Ban Ki-moon, Patrick Verkooijen (People's Daily Online)    15:45, June 27, 2019

China has accumulated a wealth of experience in adapting to climate change. It’s time that expertise is shared more widely.

Ban Ki-moon, the eight UN Secretary-General

Adaptation to climate change has been side-lined for too long. Even though it gets some attention at climate summits, where the focus is on lowering carbon emissions, adaptation is still seen as a matter for national governments to decide. We beg to differ. Just like the effects of global warming, the impact of adaptation efforts does not end at one’s borders. It should not be treated as only a domestic issue. It's time to adopt a collective approach to adaptation, where countries can learn and share from each other's experiences. The potential for South-South and North-South co-operation on adaptation is enormous. Never have we needed it more.

Six years ago, China introduced its first National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation. It set out a wide range of measures to be implemented by 2020 in order to protect water resources, minimise soil erosion and strengthen disaster prevention. New farming practices were introduced to counter the effects of changing weather patterns on China’s food security – a national priority for a country that feeds 19 per cent of the world’s population off just 9 per cent of the planet’s arable land and with 6 per cent of its renewable water resources.

Despite progress on adaptation around the world, major barriers remain in China and elsewhere. Actionable information about climate risks is not always readily available. Planning for climate risks focusses on short term solutions, neglecting the long-term necessity. Governments, communities and businesses face resource constraints and need access to scaled up sources of adaptation finance. Collective efforts are critical to overcoming these barriers, and shared learning is ever-more important.

China is not alone in this journey. Just consider locations as diverse as Miami, the Marshall Islands and Rotterdam. All three are threatened by rising sea levels and each has pioneered long-term solutions for staying safe. Miami was the first city in the world to issue municipal bonds to finance climate adaptation at scale; the Marshall Islands are growing mangrove forests as a buffer against rising seas; and Rotterdam built the Maeslant Barrier to protect the city’s 1.5 million people from floods with no impediments to sea traffic. The battle of all three to remain above water holds valuable lessons for some 800 million people living in low-lying coastal cities around the globe.

China wants to share what it has learnt, and to learn from adaptation successes from around the world. Already with the Netherlands, the technology invented in Dutch cities has been adopted and evolved by China to create a new generation of innovative and efficient ‘sponge cities’. As the Netherlands has known for centuries, climate adaptation is a window of opportunity to upgrade infrastructure, increase biodiversity and more meaningfully engage citizens in city life.

The three Ps

Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center on Adapatation

Climate adaptation requires planning, perseverance and practise.

Planning for the long-term is needed because many adaptation interventions can take decades to bear fruit. Few outside China have heard of the China Ecological Conservation Red Line, even though it has been almost 20 years in the making. Integrating climate considerations, its aim is to protect rare and endangered species and their habitats in more than one-quarter of the Chinese mainland – an area the size of France, Spain, Turkey, Germany and Italy combined. Plans are already in place for 15 provinces, including Beijing and the Yangtze River economic area. Coupled with incentives for both public and private actors, such policies can achieve a shift to longer-term thinking about adaptable solutions.

Perseverance is necessary because natural systems are complex. The rehabilitation of the Loess Plateau, an area first cultivated 10,000 years ago in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River, is recognised as one of the largest and most successful erosion-control and adaptation initiatives in the world. Grain and fruit production have increased considerably. Sediment loss into the Yellow River has been reduced by tens of millions of tonnes a year. Thousands of hectares of terraces have been established and thousands more have been reforested with multi-use tree species.

In order to develop effective adaptation solutions, they must first be piloted, measured, and tested. This is where practise is essential. Scientists have a role to play in both measuring their impact and in research. Like most evidence-based science, adapting to climate change is a collective endeavour. One pilot under way is the creation of a “sponge city” in Lingang, a district of Shanghai. Building on the Netherlands experience, Shanghai is now being “greened” with wetland areas, rooftop gardens, parks, tree-lined avenues and public spaces full of plant beds, as an alternative to traditional flood defences. The pilot is designed to show how Lingang’s green infrastructure will reverse the damage caused by over-built cities, where concrete often blocks the natural flow of water. The pilot has now been extended to a further 30 “model sponge cities”. The world has much to benefit from this collaboration to find and implement solutions.

Climate adaptation is a global issue

China may be an economic powerhouse, but it is deeply vulnerable to climate change. Any climate emergency affecting China’s manufacturing sector would send shockwaves across supply chains all over the world.

It is time to accept the interconnected nature of our planet and treat adaptation as a global challenge in need of resources, collaboration and scalable solutions. We are the last generation that can change the course of climate change. And we are the first generation that has to live with its consequences.

Ban Ki-moon is the eight UN Secretary-General; Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adapatation. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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