Boris Johnson has called for 2021 to be the year the world fights back against the impacts of climate change that are already being felt across the globe.
The Prime Minister’s comments came at a virtual event hosted by the Netherlands on adapting to climate change, as the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for a “breakthrough on adaptation and resilience” to the crisis.
Mr Guterres said there needed to be a significant increase in finance for developing countries to adapt to the changing climate and for all budget spending and investment to take climate change risks into account.
In his speech, Mr Johnson warned that people were already suffering from more frequent storms, wildfires, rising seas and increasing temperatures.
He likened the push to cut greenhouse gases to “net zero” – which will involve steep cuts to pollution and measures such as planting trees to offset remaining emissions – to a vaccine for climate change, but warned there was still a need to manage and treat the symptoms of the problem.
He pledged to make the need for a more resilient recovery from Covid-19 a priority of the UK’s G7 presidency this year, and launched an adaptation action coalition to support efforts to help countries adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.
And he said he supported Mr Guterres’ call for more international climate finance for adaptation.
Mr Johnson pointed to more powerful and frequent storms and cyclones in Bangladesh, raging wildfires in California and Australia and island communities submerged in the Pacific as evidence “dramatic” climate change was already happening.
“And even if by some miracle of science we were able to flick a switch tonight and wake up tomorrow in a net zero world the damage already done is such that it would take time for the effects to slow, to stop and to go into reverse,” he warned.
“And that means we must adapt to our changing climate. And we must do so now.
“If climate change were an infectious disease we would not only seek to deal with the underlying cause by developing a vaccine, in this case net zero, we would also find every way we could to treat and manage the symptoms.
“So let 2021 be the year that we fight back not just against climate change, but the effects of climate change that are already being felt.”
After the summit, aid agency Care International warned there were no signs of new, substantive action at the event.
Obed Koringo, Care’s civil society advocacy coordinator (Kenya) said: “As we recover from the economic impacts of Covid-19, adaptation finance has to be at the forefront of the climate conversation.
“We look forward to seeing how the good energy and intention translates into real adaptation finance for frontline communities dealing with worsening climate impacts.”
Oxfam’s senior policy adviser on climate change Tracy Carty said: “We welcome the renewed commitment to adaptation from the Prime Minister and others.
“The first task of this international coalition must be to scale up climate finance, without which low-income countries, already suffering due to climate change, will be unable to adapt to more extreme weather.
“Only a fifth of all reported public climate finance to developing countries is currently spent on adaptation, so increasing that to half must be an urgent priority, as secretary general Antonio Guterres has called for.
“Without financial support from wealthy nations, millions of vulnerable people that have contributed least to the climate crisis will be unable to cope with more powerful storms, droughts and floods.”
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