Pandemic recovery strategies should aim for a resilient future

As governments commit trillions to revive economies, there is a unique opportunity to make the world stronger against future crises, writes Ede Ijjasz

G lobal leaders met recently at the inaugural Climate Adaptation Summit to explore how climate adaptation can strengthen economic recoveries in the wake of Covid-19. And despite the enormous competition for resources, trillions wiped off the world economy, limited budgets and mounting debt, governments agreed to ramp up action on climate adaptation.

There is a simple reason for this: climate adaptation makes stimulus spending go further. Investing in adaptation produces a triple dividend: it reduces vulnerability to future losses from climate shocks, fosters more innovation, and creates additional benefits for society. It also makes sound economic sense—making infrastructure more resilient to climate shocks, for example, adds around 3 percent to upfront costs but returns can be four times the initial investment[1]. It means building roads and bridges that won’t be washed away in a flood; planting mangrove forests to buffer the impact of hurricanes; or fixing water networks to plug leaks.

Yet too little is currently being invested in these critical areas. Global funding for climate adaptation is woefully below what is needed to effectively manage scarce water resources, climate-proof our food production and protect our infrastructure from increasing and intensifying climate impacts. Funding for adaptation needs to increase five- to tenfold to up to US$ 300 billion[2] a year by 2030 if we are to effectively strengthen our planet against growing risks such as floods and wildfires.

The vast sums being pledged in stimulus spending represent a massive opportunity to start righting this wrong. And the need is increasingly urgent. Last year, more than 50 million people were affected by a record number of floods, droughts, wildfires and storms, while worldwide natural disasters caused losses of US$ 210 billion[3]. However, less than a fifth of the economic recovery packages pledged so far, which total more than US$ 20 trillion, have “green” elements with more emphasis on climate mitigation. The funding for climate risk or resilience elements is minimal. ,

We must seize this unique opportunity to build back better, not least because investing in adaptation is not complicated. Solutions can be simple. The GCA’s State and Trends in Adaptation 20205 report, which was launched at the Climate Adaptation Summit explains how building more resilience for tomorrow works hand-in-hand with jump-starting economies and creating jobs today. Governments can maximize these benefits by keeping in mind just six steps.

First: they must prioritize by identifying the greatest climate risks to their people. That could be flooding, which displaced 2.2 million in China last July, or food insecurity, which stalked the Horn of Africa after a plague of locusts devastated crops last year. Stimulus packages could also identify and address critical infrastructure risks and bottlenecks—aged dams or unsafe bridges, for example—that leave people vulnerable to disaster. Localized impacts should not be forgotten either. Sometimes, low-cost solutions, such as timely weather data for farmers and proper maintenance of irrigation ditches, can have a big impact.

Second: it’s important to plan ahead. Some resilient infrastructure projects are complex and require multi-year budgets. We need to ensure that developing countries have the skills and data to develop
and finance their climate resilience plans, including maximizing their chances of getting multilateral funding and grants.

Ghana, for example, with the support of Global Center on Adaptation and others, has embarked on a 12-month study[4] into the country’s infrastructure needs, focusing on water, transport, and energy so it can more effectively plan to meet them—all with resilience front and center. More countries must follow suit.
Third: we need a focus on job creation. Last year, the pandemic cost 8.8 percent of global working hours, according to the International Labour Organization[5]. That is the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs. These can be replaced with long-term, sustainable jobs within climate-adaptation projects such as mangrove planting and landscape restoration to reduce the risk of flooding. Nature-based programs, in particular, are often a quick route to ‘shovel-ready’ projects that create lots of jobs fast.

Targeted training and education will also support small and medium-sized enterprises and better paying jobs. In Tanzania, the Resilience Academy[6] is teaching digital skills and risk management to university students. Meanwhile, the Young Women Leadership in Adaptation Program[7] , supported by GCA, will teach women and girls to become leaders in adaptation.

Fourth: governments must find partners in the private sector. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)[8], two in five small businesses never reopen after a disaster and another one in four fail within a year. Working with those at risk, governments can take practical action to help the private sector bounce back, including providing tax relief for small-scale, consumer-owned renewable energy where appropriate, financial support for improving water storage and efficiency, and insurance to reduce and transfer risk.

Fifth: government spending can redirect subsidies to support climate resilience. The World Bank[9]estimates that countries responsible for two-thirds of the world’s agricultural production hand out US$ 600 billion a year in financial support and subsidies. These subsidies are an ideal mechanism to help farmers operate more sustainably—encouraging them to increase yields and livestock productivity while moving away from deforestation, for example. We also need smart policy reforms in land-use planning, climate-responsive safety nets and open access to climate data.

Finally, fairness and equity must be at the heart of adaptation and resilience recovery programs.
The pandemic has amplified existing inequalities. It is expected to tip up to 117 million more people into extreme poverty[10], according to the World Bank. The most vulnerable have lower access to health services, water and sanitation, and those working are at a greater risk of being laid off. By ensuring that equity and inclusion run through the five points above we can make life more secure for many millions of people, including women, persons with disabilities and other excluded groups.

Taken together, these actions will make post-Covid recoveries more effective at very little extra cost. Indeed, a focus on climate adaptation will make recovery more resilient, more equitable and more sustainable over the medium and long term. Governments and their partners must seize this unique opportunity to address today’s problems while building greater resilience to those already threatening tomorrow.

Ede Ijjasz | LinkedIn: edeijjasz, Twitter: @Ede_WBG, Youtube: channel

The ideas presented in this article aim to inspire adaptation action – they are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Global Center on Adaptation.


1 Adapt Now, p5

2 https://gca.org/reports/state-and-trends-in-adaptation-report-2020/

3 https://www.munichre.com/en/company/media-relations/media-information-and-corporatenews/media-information/2021/2020-natural-disasters-balance.html

4 https://www.modernghana.com/news/1019060/virtual-kick-off-event-for-enhancing-theresilienc.html

5 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_ 767028.pdf

6 https://resilienceacademy.ac.tz/about-us/

7 https://gca.org/programs/youth-leadership/

8 https://www.govtech.com/em/preparedness/Small-Businesses-Are-a-Vital-Part-of-CommunityResiliency-but-Often-Overlook-Vulnerabilities.html

9 https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33677

10 https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2020/10/22/the-human-face-of-covid-19-sixthings-to-consider-for-an-inclusive-recovery

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