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141: IPCC Report: Adapt or Die! with Patrick Verkooijen

The science is clear. Either we adapt, or we perish. The time to act and invest is now!

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About this episode

The latest IPCC Report from Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability comes at an unprecedented moment in human history. A moment too late to avoid all effects of climate change baked into an already 1.1C warmer world, and a moment not too late to adapt humanity and all species to our increasingly important target of only 1.5C of warming.

In a strikingly clear connection this report makes between human and ecosystem vulnerability, the science is clear: either we adapt, or we perish. Because between 3.3-3.6 billion humans are currently living in areas “highly vulnerable to climate change”.

So, with over 270 scientists that pored over 34,000 publications and assessed 127 risks telling us to adapt now, now, NOW! …how do we cut to the heart of those at the levers of economic and governmental power already dealing with war, famine, a pandemic? (The list goes on.)

This week, Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation joins us to lay out the findings of this next section of the IPCC report, and how tapping into humanity’s enlightened Self-interest (with a capital S) can take investment now into adaptation and promise exponential returns for humanity, as well as all species on Earth.

Mentioned links from the episode (and others):


Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage+Optimism! I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres

Paul: [00:00:17] And I'm Paul Dickinson

Tom: [00:00:18] Today, we're bringing you a special bonus episode on the IPCC report on the impacts of climate and adaptation. And for that, we're speaking to the Director of the Global Center of Adaptation Patrick Verkooijen. Thanks for joining us. So today we have an episode for you that we recorded yesterday when we spoke to Patrick Verkooijen, the CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation, and in this we delve into the report that came out from the IPCC looking specifically at the impacts of climate change and what we need to do to adapt to them. Now, this report makes for some pretty stark reading. There's some data in there that demonstrates the scale of the challenge that we're facing, and it is all fairly overwhelming. But it does contain seeds of optimism in terms of what we need to do at this last critical moment in history to deal with it. So first of all, Christiana, I think you're going to give us a couple of minutes summary as to what you took from the report. And then we're going to flip to the interview with Patrick, and we will see you all back here on Thursday for an episode digging into the Ukraine crisis with two former foreign secretaries of the UK. Christiana, ever to you?

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Paul: [00:01:34] I would just encourage you to listen carefully to Christiana, because Secretary-General Guterres called this an atlas of human suffering. And I'm sure if it was not for the crisis in Ukraine, this report is all we would be talking about this week. But Christiana,

Christiana: [00:01:47] Yeah. So just so that we understand a little bit about this report, listeners may remember that we're actually in the process of what is called the Sixth Assessment Report, which happens more or less every six to seven years. And before the COP, we had the first part of that assessment report. This is the second part that is devoted to adaptation, and then we will have the third part coming out later in the year. And finally, a summary of all three parts that will come out. But this part, which is devoted to adaptation, one could understand it as being a report on, what is the world going to live like if we live in what was correctly termed a code red world. So what would that look like? Now there are, as always, an incredible amount of efforts that go into each of these reports. In this case, 270 scientists who reviewed over 34 thousand publications and they assessed 127 risks that we are open to if we have runaway climate change. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has already called this report an atlas of human suffering. This report is a very long involved complex report, but perhaps just to get a grip on what the report is telling us, I would like to highlight just four points. The first is that it says that there are already today somewhere between three point three and three point six billion people who are already living in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. They also say that, of course, as we know, a high proportion of species are already in high vulnerability to climate change, and then they actually make the link between the two. And I thought that was really interesting that they're saying that as clearly in this report. The second point that summarizes some of their findings is, they're saying beyond 2040, depending on the level of temperature increase that we will have by then, we will of course, be prone to many of these risks that they assessed, 127. But what they tell us is, those risks could be multiple times higher than currently observed. So everything that we're seeing now, the impacts that we're seeing now multiply that times X. And that would be what the world would be like if we get to the code red world after 2040. So understandably, that our young people are frankly going into panic because the world beyond 2040 is their world. The third thing that is quite clear in this report is that this is really about near-term choices. Choices, actions, investment, especially in this decade, and that is going to deliver either higher or lower climate resilient development, depending on how quickly we get our act together. And it is very clear, once again, that once we breach 1.5 degrees, all very consistent with previous reports that we will actually be in a situation in which we simply may not be able to adapt anymore to the impact. And the fourth message that I would like to highlight is the very somber, somber warning that they give us. That, of course, we have to undertake near-term actions. To limit warming to 1.5, and if we do so in this decade, that would substantially reduce the projected loss and damage and negative impacts. But, and this is a big but, it will not eliminate them all. And they're saying that with a very high degree of confidence, that is a somber warning that should wake us all up. At least the very least that we can do is ensure that we're not going to go beyond 1.5, because even at one point five degrees of temperature increase, we will not eliminate all the negative impacts. So the very minimum, because many people are thinking that's the maximum effort. No, that's the minimum effort. In order to stay within the boundaries of what we can adapt to. So a very somber, alarming report.

Paul: [00:06:39] Thanks, Christina. That was brilliant, so I guess, Tom, we go to the interview?

Tom: [00:06:43] We go to the interview. Thank you very much, Christiana. Not a comedy, obviously, this report is a very serious moment in human evolution to deal with this crisis. So we're going to hear now from Patrick Verkooijen, who is the CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation, which is a Dutch foundation that acts as the solutions broker to accelerate, innovate and scale adaptation action for a climate resilient world. He works closely with Ban Ki-moon, who was the former director general of the United Nations and is the chairman of the board of GCA. Both Christiana and I have known Patrick for many years. He was at the World Bank in the years leading up to the Paris Agreement, has a long history of working on the climate crisis in a variety of positions in academia, in international organizations. He is a real innovator and a driver for change. I think you'll enjoy this conversation. Here's Patrick.

Christiana: [00:07:35] Patrick. Thank you so much for joining us on Outrage+Optimism! What a day. What a day. With all this news that is really coming over us. Frankly, as a tsunami of bad news, we can leave the Ukraine situation on the side for a moment. But the fact that we now have this chapter of the current IPCC report, a very important chapter, the chapter that is dedicated to adaptation, and it has, frankly, not very much good news. We would love for you to please summarize if you can, a very long involved, very well researched report. And can you do that, Patrick, in a way that it would be understandable for all of us because even those of us who work on climate change are not necessarily fluent in adaptation issues and and challenges so would really appreciate, if you can do sort of a translation of this report for us to really be able to appreciate the the importance and the urgency of the report.

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:08:51] Well, thank you so much for having me on your show. And I really like the framing of the show and focusing on the optimism side because when I look at the IPCC report, which came out today, there's for me one fundamental message which was central to the report for many in the world, today it's adapt or die. I think there is a profound moral injustice in the global system that those who did the least to contribute to climate change are suffering the most. And that's particularly true in Africa. Africa only contributed three percent of GHG emissions, but are suffering the brunt of the climate emergency. More droughts, more floods, more storms is impacting food security, is impacting urban development, bottom line is impacting people. So what the report says is this has to stop. The rich world has promised to deliver a hundred billion dollars north to south for climate finance, and in fact, today we only see a portion of a fraction of that financing flowing. And the report does have an optimistic spin because it says investing in adaptation is not only morally the right thing to do, it's smart economics. It does make sense to build a food security climate resilient. It makes sense to build our new infrastructure systems climate resilient because the return on our investments are much higher than the upfront investments in adaptation. Adaptation, in short, what is it? It is how we produce our food, how we eat our food, how we build our cities, how we build our infrastructure. We need to think not just of the climate of today, but we also need to think through the climate impacts of tomorrow and mainstreamed that into our investment decisions.

Christiana: [00:10:49] Ok, OK, Patrick. Well, thanks for that introduction. Just a little while ago, we had Yuval Harari on the episode, and he was pretty clear in reminding us what economists have been saying for a long time, which is if we just take two percent of global GDP and invest it into climate change, we could actually completely transform the economy. Now, when Yuval is talking about the two percent of global GDP, is that already including mitigation and adaptation? Or when you run the numbers, do we have to think about how much we invest into mitigation, i.e. cutting emissions, which is inversely related to adaptation? And let's talk about that in a minute, but just to stay with the finance for a moment. Do we have to think of basically two flows of funding, one for one for mitigation cutting emissions and another one completely separate for adaptation? Or do these actually interconnect?

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:11:54] Yeah. So it's a good question about the false dichotomy between mitigation and adaptation. There's not a reality out there, only focusing on lowering our carbon footprint, i.e. mitigation and another reality out there adjusting to the impacts of the climate emergency, i.e. adaptation. We need to do both things at the same time, as you already alluded to, Christiana. Every 10 percent of Celsius increase will actually make adaptation more difficult. Ideally, we would focus in terms of financing of those investments, which address both our carbon footprints and adapting to the changing climate. For example, investing in nature based solutions in infrastructure. I mean, it makes sense for the economy. It makes sense for our health. It makes sense for the planet. But there are very smart packages to be done where you invest in adaptation, while you also have the lower carbon footprint at the same time running the numbers for the African continent to take that most vulnerable continent for a second. Well, in fact, Africa leaders have run the numbers themselves. Just before Glasgow, they came forward with their NDCs that indicated, we African nations, we need 33 billion dollars a year to invest in climate adaptation. How much is flowing today from north to south? Only six billion? So there's a vast difference in what is needed and what is being put on the table. As I said in Glasgow, there was a breakthrough in adaptation in Glasgow. And why was that? Because there were certain nations the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., the UK. We said we will double our adaptation finance in the coming years. Well, we still need to realize that this is from a very low sort of threshold into what needs to be doubled. My call to those countries is not only to double, but to deliver on that doubling very fast in bold programs on adaptation. I think that's the exam question in front of all of us in the coming period based also on this IPCC report.

Tom: [00:14:14] Patrick, it's so good to talk to you about this and thank you for your insights. I'm curious to know. I mean, this report makes pretty heavy reading for those of us who have been alert to this issue. And you, of course, leading the Global Center on Adaptation have seen this really from the sharp end. But 40 percent of the world's population is highly vulnerable to climate. That's nearly three and a half billion people. We're now seeing 15 times more people dying from extreme weather than even just 10 years ago, and it sort of has to kind of beg the question as to how far we really can adapt. But you've already covered off the fact that we need to both adapt and mitigate. I'm curious, though, what do you think the impact will be politically of this kind of report? I mean, this has been through an IPCC process signed off by every country, demonstrates the fundamental injustice of climate change that the worst impacts are being felt. Do you think this will create a political moment of realization that rich countries need to do more to support the world to deal with the problem they've created? Or do you not think we're there yet?

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:15:18] Well, let me take this question through a detour. First of all, you don't have to explain to a smallholder farmer in a western Kenya that the climate emergency is here. You don't need to explain to a factory worker in Bangladesh that the climate emergency is here. But you also don't need to explain to a citizen in the Netherlands who experienced the floods last summer that the climate emergency is completely spinning out of control. I think that realization globally, I think that we have come to that type of maturity, that the climate emergency is here with us and is here to stay and that we need to adapt. Now translating that into not just action but bold action at the scale and speed required. That's a completely different ballgame. My country, the Netherlands, I'm sitting here in the largest floating office in the world in Rotterdam, and quite often I say, Well, actually, Rotterdam is the adaptation capital in the world. Because if you were to walk from the central station to this office, you see all sorts of adaptation interventions, from green rooftops to two water squares. So I think a country like the Netherlands is built in essence on adaptation investments because they have realized throughout the centuries. It makes economic sense, it’s the only way forward for a country like the Netherlands. But there's something different that the Netherlands is also playing a leadership role globally, right? What I expect from rich countries is to come forward with a much larger scale of financial support, but also with technical solutions, which will be shared with different parts of the world. I think that is still underappreciated globally. What rich countries can do in terms of supporting Africa, South Asia, the seats in otherwise. And what rich countries like the Netherlands can learn from other parts of the world. For many, many years, we had a lot of experience with too much water. But what is new for the Netherlands and other parts of Europe is droughts and heat stress. We do not have, let's say, significant experience in these types of a crisis, so we are learning from other parts of the world and that cross-fertilisation of solutions. I think that's the way to go.

Tom: [00:17:37] Hmm. It's interesting, isn't it? I mean, we're sitting here. And as Christiana mentioned at the beginning, we're also witnessing these terrible events unfolding in Ukraine and we won't get into that, but the moment of global unity in support of Ukraine is probably roughly akin to what we also need to find is a moment of global unity and support of these countries that are going to suffer the worst impacts of climate change. And this report is the kind of thing that should draw us to that moment. So I'm just sort of observing and I don't know if you have any observations on that, that's where we need to get to that level of urgency and determination that we will support these people who are facing these terrible impacts.

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:18:18] Yes, but I would like to add that this sort of sense of shared responsibility needs to be coupled, as the IPCC report also indicates, with this realization of enlightened self-interest, it makes sense for which countries to invest in adaptation in the global south because it is also impacting their bottom line through disrupted supply chains through climate migrants. At some point, they will end up at our doorstep. So I think these realizations of the moral case, but also the economic case and that economic argument, which came through much stronger in the IPCC report and in previous editions, I think that is sort of the tipping point. It is getting finance ministers and multinationals and corporations into the kitchen in finding the solutions and bringing them to scale.

Paul: [00:19:12] One hundred percent Thank you, Patrick, for channeling Darwin with adapt or die. Very famous phrase that served living things very well for billions of years, but I just was really struck by the global response to this report, Patrick. I mean, Secretary-General Guterres, the head of the United Nations system, said the world's biggest polluters are guilty of arson in our only home. He said fossil fuels are a dead end. He said he's feeling anxious and angry, so many people, but we need to turn rage into action. So once again, kind of building on Tom's question about this global unity that we've seen with regard to Ukraine, for example. How can we make something so important as climate change and the response, urgent? Because of course, what defines this, this sort of, you know, increasing action around the Ukrainian issue has been the urgency, but the importance of the climate change issue is, of course, the key. Do you have any thoughts about how our listeners can best work to combine that importance with urgency because they seem to be tragically separated with regard to climate change?

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:20:22] So thanks, Paul. So what I see is this linkage between importance and urgent to practical, right? I mean, we also need to translate the urgency to a practical agenda. I think one way to do this sort of trajectory is the realization that the economic impacts of inaction are far outweighing the economic implications of action. Take an example, investing in climate resilient food security systems in Africa costs annually 15 billion. The cost of inaction of, i.e., not making food security systems in Africa climate resilient. The cost of that is two hundred billion. So the realization of that, in fact, the cost of inaction is expensive and not the cost of action will help to this importance, urgency, translation. And then in terms of the practicality, I mean, two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting President Nasheed, Speaker of the House in the Maldives. I mean, the Maldives 12 of the islands on average, one meter above sea level rise to 100 islands inhabited. He said 50 percent. Five zero percent of our public expenditure is invested in climate adaptation. Our debt levels are increasing because of COVID. Our cost of capital is increasing because our credit ratings are at risk. We can no longer sustain this level of depth to address the climate emergency, but we also don't have an alternative. So he's set to make it practical. Should we not have a global moment of solidarity where levels of death will not only be restructured but will be swapped against climate action, he said. We, as the Maldives, stand ready to offset our public death globally to investments in climate adaptation. I think that those are the types of, I think, initiatives which should be the consequence of this level of heightened emergency, which needs to follow from this IPCC report.

Christiana: [00:22:39] Can I jump in on that solidarity piece, please, Patrick? Because honestly, that is the piece that is most frustrating for me. We have come to the point where there is a growing understanding that mitigation, cutting emissions, for example, through investments into renewable energy not only makes sense from a climate control perspective, but from a very narrow perspective, there are compelling market reasons to do so, and it's taken us a long time to get to that conclusion. Thank the Lord, we're there now. How do we get adaptation to that same level of maturity, of the psychology of the investment? That's what I would really like to focus on here. The psychology, because yes, you have spoken about enlightened self-interest. Absolutely agree with you. Yes, you've spoken about solidarity. Absolutely agree with you. And yet neither of those are yet as compelling, as the psychology of investing into renewables, and that's the piece that is just so frustrating and so just completely, I mean, I just tear my hair out, right? Because how is it possible that we are willing to move so much more on something that we understand because we've understood that there is self-interest, self-written with a small S, and yet we're unable to capitalize self-interest and understand what you've just said that actually solidarity is not charity. Solidarity is in the end, our own self-interest, if you understand with the capital S but the difference between solidarity and charity, because that is the ongoing, the predominant psychology about adaptation, it still is too close, too adjacent to a psychology of charity. And then it's not going to happen. So how do we move it out of that space? Patrick, how do we get it to a much, much closer space of, as you've said, enlightened self-interest? We've been saying this for years, if not decades, but we haven't moved very much.

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:25:06] Well, so we haven't moved very much, but we are moving. I want to just portray a picture, we are seeing the climate crisis unfolding, wildfires in the West Coast in the US, the floods, as I referenced here in Western Europe over the summer, in Australia today. I think these costs of the climate emergency are being paid by someone, whether it's insurance companies or by taxpayers or by the government stepping in, are being paid in Western society. And I think this realization that we basically have a choice to make, we either delay and pay more or we plan and prosper that sort of I think the way forward is, at least a large portion of the way forward is to make much stronger reference to the economic case of investing in adaptation. Investing in adaptation, as you said, Christiana is not charity. It's smart economics. The realisation that investing in resilient infrastructure is yes, there are upfront costs three percent higher than, let's say, a regular road, which doesn't include, let's say, climate resilient measures. But the return on investment is a ratio of four to one. So I think the beginning of that realization, which we also saw today in the IPCC report, is very important. That economic argument has been largely missing in the adaptation debate. It's coming to some level of maturity, so I think now we need to bring the right constituency to the table. In essence, the risk managers, the finance ministers, the corporations, who are basically have as their bottom line managing risk. I think that level, that next step in the adaptation agenda is absolutely vital. So I think if I may be so explicit, this whole, let's say, debate around $100 billion from north or south. It's important. But referencing you, Paul, it's not the critical component, it's not the $100 billion sort of exam question, which will deliver the large scale transformation. We're talking about the trillions of investments. So I think we also need to look over and above the $100 billion north to south investment in climate finance. How can we bring new financial instruments to the table? We for ourselves, we are launching this week together with the Minister of Finance in Ivory Coast, a sustainable finance bond, a two billion euro bond to invest it in, in this case, Ivory Coast. To do what? Well, to make infrastructure more resilient, to invest in agriculture, to invest in agroforestry, to invest in digital climate services. I think these innovative instruments need to be scaled up rapidly and that needs to be done today.

Paul: [00:28:18] Patrick, I was going to ask you a question, but I think you've almost answered it. You know, we have thousands of people listening to this show who are actually working corporations or working NGOs working in partnership with corporations. I was going to ask you, what's the kind of collaboration that you would like to see with government, but do you think it's innovative finance, its technology opportunities? Is there a principle, you know, if you were just trying to kind of put the mission to business in one sentence, what's the mission?

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:28:45] Well, the mission to business is that we cannot do any development today or in the future without thinking about the implication of physical risk through any economic decision, right? I mean, I think we are misguided to think that the climate, as we know it today, will be the climate of tomorrow. I think that's such a sort of obvious statement. But at the same time, the realization is that those sort of new sort of date climate data points, they need to be embedded into all decisions. It's an all of society agenda. It's not something for just ministers of environment. I mean, this is clearly an all of society effort

Paul: [00:29:23] Right, that makes sense. Thank you. Thank you. Not just for ministers of environment, holistic.

Christiana: [00:29:29] Patrick, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us on an undoubtedly very, very busy day for you. So thank you very much. This allows us to go out to our listeners on a very timely basis. And Patrick, at the end of all of our interviews, we always ask a guest a two part question that has to do with the title of the podcast Outrage+Optimism! So in the face of this report. Patrick, from your perspective, where do you identify the outrage that is embedded in this report and where do you identify the optimism part of which you've already spoken to, but also as you see the impact that this report could or should have on those that can actually make a difference, where do you come down on the spectrum between outrage and optimism?

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:30:29] First of all, the outrage is clearly embedded throughout the report. This realization that we have entered a new system of climate apartheid that really, let's say the impacts of the climate emergency are just distributed unequally. I think that is very clearly part of the IPCC report as it was launched today. And of course, that has to be addressed, that has to be addressed by all of us. But at the same time, there is a level of optimism in the report as it references adaptation because there are solutions out there. What they require is scale. What they require is speed. So where do I come out between outrage and optimism? I would say in the middle. It is about the determination. There is no alternative between outrage and optimism. There is only a way forward to make the realization, that is investing in adaptation is the right thing to do. Is the smartest thing to do. And hence, let's get on with it.

Christiana: [00:31:45] Well, Patrick, thank you very much. We are all really, truly sending all the energy and mobilizing the network that we have for this report to make a difference. It's coming out in a very, very difficult week in which the world is turning its attention to an acute crisis. But it's not unrelated, right? We have to be able to deal with both acute geopolitical crises that we will address later, but also with this absolutely chronic crisis that we've been dealing with in such an unsatisfactory way and so insufficiently so we do hope that this is going to bring yet another voice of alarm that will hopefully mobilize the support at the financing and the policy that we didn't talk about and the policies that we need to be able to get us to the point where we will begin to shave off the injustice of climate change because that is ultimately what we need to do. It's the only moral thing to do. So thank you very much. Really appreciate your time, Patrick. Appreciate your passion, your clarity. You've been working on this for years, and it's really quite wonderful to see that you are still there, still using your energy and your devotion to move this agenda forward. So really, truly, thank you very, very much.

Patrick Verkooijen: [00:33:16] Thank you so much. Thank you, Patrick.

Paul: [00:33:17] Indeed. Thank you for the call to practical steps, Patrick inspiring.

Clay: [00:33:27] Hey, everybody, it's Clay, producer of Outrage+Optimism! Thank you for listening to this special episode on the latest IPCC report and to thank you to our guest, Patrick Verkooijen and the team at the GCA, the Global Center on Adaptation for making time for us on a very, very busy day. While I have you at the end of the episode, I know that in this day and age we've got limited time, limited attention spans and often need a summary or key points only, or even just a localized reading of a report. You know, like how do these findings translate to my part of the globe or the part of the globe that I'm trying to communicate in? And the IPCC has done a great job of presenting their findings in a digestible and readable way for non-scientific people like myself. I have a link in the show notes that will take you to a page that they've created with FAQs. You know, a fact sheet about the report's findings in each continent, and they even have a summary for policymakers, which is something you should consider sending to your representatives. And last but not least, they have a global to regional atlas document, which has maps visualizing the impacts of climate change on nature and humanity and their capacities and limits for adaptation. So if your visual like me, pictures help and they have that. Check the show notes for a link there. Ok, we'll see you on Thursday for our regular scheduled episode. It's going to be focusing on Ukraine, and we'll be talking with David Miliband and William Hague, so you definitely don't want to miss that. Best way to make sure that you hear it is to hit subscribe. All right. See you then.


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