Climate change impacts are already being felt everywhere in the world and increasingly adaptation is required. Many countries are implementing adaption plans for unavoidable impacts. Innovation and technology can provide helpful solutions. This chapter discusses the role of technology in adaptation, including both its potential and the challenges it faces, as well as the implementation funding available.


Climate change adaptation

In preparation for this inaugural edition of the Green Technology Book, WIPO launched a short and simple online survey to gather testament from people around the world on how they are experiencing climate change impacts and what they … Read more

Climate change adaptation

In preparation for this inaugural edition of the Green Technology Book, WIPO launched a short and simple online survey to gather testament from people around the world on how they are experiencing climate change impacts and what they themselves are doing to adapt. The survey revealed that for many people climate change is already a bitter reality – and that is has been necessary to take action in response. In India, farmers are having to stop farming certain areas due to protracted periods of seasonal flooding. In Ethiopia, Antigua & Barbuda and Switzerland, farmers are finding alternative and innovative new ways of efficiently managing irrigation water in order to make it last longer. In the Philippines and Suriname, cultivators are both switching to crop varieties able to thrive at higher temperatures and introducing agroforestry. In Indonesia, efforts are being made to re-grow large sections of coral reefs severely damaged by coral bleaching.

The testament people gave, although anecdotal, served to underline the seriousness of climate change risks. Furthermore, that the impacts are already upon us and being felt. A first step toward fighting climate change is to recognize and understand the threat. Only then can adaptation be devised and implemented. Actions need to be implemented at all scales, from the personal to the global, utilizing a wide variety of means. The Green Technology Book 2022 aims to inspire action by showing what solutions are available and for which impacts.

Adapting to climate change

At its core, adaptation aims to increase resilience to climate impacts and reduce vulnerability. It is about finding ways to cope with the immediate threats – higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense abnormal weather events and more. But adaptation is also about making communities more robust and resourceful. About providing them with sufficient capacity and surplus to be able to implement both immediate and longer-term changes. A focus on future climate risks is of particular importance in this respect. This is due to the long-term nature of adaptation as climate impacts unfold over time. It may for example include assisting natural ecosystems in adapting not only to current but also expected future climate effects.

Weather systems are highly complex and imperfectly understood. It is therefore difficult to predict how and when climate change will affect individual regions, localities and resources. One of the likely first signs of climate change disruption is highly volatile food and vital commodity prices. And it is also probable that we are already experiencing them. Disruption will be a key characteristic of climate change impacts. Disruption has many consequences hard to predict, or if predictable hard to avoid. Therefore preparing a community, a village, a city or a whole country for climate change impacts to a large extent comes down to empowering them to be sufficiently flexible and responsive. Generally speaking, this is much easier to achieve for a wealthy and well-managed society. Therefore a lot of the climate change adaptation efforts in many ways resemble the activities and strategies deployed in international development work for decades. Ensuring that local communities are healthy; that they have an adequate, sustainable, well-maintained and well-managed resource base; produce enough to generate a reliable surplus; and have the power, institutions, capability and knowledge to use that surplus to act, develop and adapt is at the core of both development and adaptation.

Adaptation is already happening

“Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability”. This is how the current situation was summarized in the latest scientific assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[1]

Since climate change started to become commonly recognized as a reality that required action, probably in the late 1990s, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions has been dominating both the debate and the search for solutions. This is hardly surprising. Surely it is better to avoid or mitigate impending impacts than have to live with them. However, global atmospheric CO2 concentrations have hit a new high of 420 ppm and continue to climb.[2] Efforts to mitigate climate change have not proven enough of a success – so far. Although it is known with a high degree of certainty what is needed to avoid even moderate impacts, actions and commitments still fall short. Adaptation is therefore a present and growing necessity. It is particularly critical in those developing countries expected to be hit hardest by climate change, and which lack a strong foundation for adapting. Many never have been and are not major CO2 emitters, meaning mitigation actions may be much less relevant for these countries than adaptation.

Action is also happening

Adapting to a variable climate is not new. And as mentioned, adaptation has strong linkages to national and international development work and cooperation more generally. But immediate climate change adaptation actions are becoming increasingly urgent, as new annual records are set for temperature, flooding, storm, drought, forest fire and other unwanted impacts with a frequency never seen before. In 2022 for example, extremely intense monsoon rains affected most of Pakistan, displacing millions of people and causing over 1,600 deaths.[3] Somalia is facing a fifth consecutive failed rainy season, making it the worst drought in 40 years against a background of conflict and insecurity.[4] In Europe, heatwave and forest fires have reached unprecedented levels.[5] [6] [7] Climate-related extreme events already cost the European Union on average over 12 billion Euro every year,[8] while for China the cost is estimated at USD 44 billion annually.[9]

Several countries and regions have already made plans for adaptation. For example, China published its “National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation” in 2013,[10] replaced this year in 2022 by the 2035 strategy.[11] [12] In 2015, African heads of state launched the Africa Adaptation Initiative which seeks to unite the continent’s countries around support for adaptation action and financing.[13] This year African Union published a climate resilience development strategy laying out guiding principles for policy and governance, means of implementation and for regional cooperation in implementing adaptation in Africa.[14] In 2018 the Global Commission on Adaptation was launched by a diverse group of national and international organizations, businesses and scientific leaders. The Commission is mandated to accelerate adaptation by promoting political visibility for adaptation and focusing on concrete solutions.[15]

The European Union (EU) published in 2009 a White Paper on adaptation listing several initiatives that were largely implemented. In 2013, this was followed up by an actual Adaptation Strategy,[16] renewed in 2021.[17] Every EU member state now has a national adaptation plan and adaptation has been mainstreamed into EU policies and long-term budgets.[18]

As of 2021, around 79 percent of all countries had at least one adaptation policy, plan, strategy or law in place

For developing countries, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is a process that helps countries identify medium- and long-term adaptation needs and formulate strategies and programs to address climate change adaptation. By mid-2022, 38 developing countries had produced an NAP.[19] Similarly, for least developed countries (LDCs), national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) support the formulation of shorter-term adaptation action plans, mostly lists of prioritized adaptation activities and projects. By 2017, 51 countries had submitted NAPAs.[20] As of 2021, around 79 percent of all countries had at least one adaptation policy, plan, strategy or law in place.[21]

This indicates a strong and growing global concern over climate change impacts.

In order to determine what are their climate technology priorities, many countries undertake a technology needs assessment (TNA). A TNA analyzes various sectors’ technology needs in advance of implementing prioritized climate technologies. A key outcome of the TNA process is a technology action plan (TAP). This is a concise national plan for the uptake and diffusion of prioritized technologies in support of social, environmental and economic development, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.[22] Such prioritizations can feed into the National Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the commitments nations made as signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Of the 148 countries that updated their commitments in 2021, 106 included more, and more detailed, adaptation information, despite this being optional.[23] Read less

Technology and innovation as part of the solution

Climate change impacts are disruptive and to some extent unpredictable, diverse and context-dependent. It is therefore not surprising that climate change adaptation activities and initiatives are so many and varied. They range from simple … Read more

Technology and innovation as part of the solution

Climate change impacts are disruptive and to some extent unpredictable, diverse and context-dependent. It is therefore not surprising that climate change adaptation activities and initiatives are so many and varied. They range from simple techniques and practices to highly sophisticated technologies. In adaptation, there is not one or a few central technologies which can be scaled-up to solve most of the challenges. Rather, thousands of solutions of every level of sophistication are required – all pulling in the same direction. But technology and innovation alone cannot solve it all. They are no substitute for a broad range of fundamental and necessary changes to the way we produce and consume. In short, it is not a question of one or the other, but a matter of doing both.

In the Green Technology Book 2022, we embrace the simple and the complex. Both have a role to play in addressing climate change impacts. Every country’s innovation ecosystem has the capacity to devise novel technologies able to provide solutions.

Vulnerable smallholder farmers

Global food production is under threat and this threat will increase. Agriculture occupies 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface and consumes 70 percent of the freshwater extracted.[24] Three-quarters of the world’s food is derived from only 12 plant and five animal species.[25] And almost all agriculture is highly weather dependent. These factors make food production particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, which is why agricultural adaptation technologies feature so strongly in the Green Technology Book. When it comes to developing countries in particular, the agriculture sector is dominated by smallholders (i.e., household-based farms with less than 10 hectares of land). Five out of six farms worldwide (83 percent) occupy less than two hectares of land, and 70 percent less than one. Also in China, 80 percent of food supply comes from smallholders.[26] Many smallholders produce primarily for their own consumption. Simple tools are used and yields low, with little surplus to provide against failed harvests. This big group, especially its high percentage of female-headed households, is highly vulnerable to any unpredictable change. But it is also an example of how cheap and simple technologies and techniques, often based on local, traditional and Indigenous knowledge, are required on a massive scale to help them adapt to climate change and develop. For example, simple improvements to reduce post-harvest waste can make a significant difference. At the same time, sophisticated technologies can also aid smallholder farmers. For example, communication technologies and satellite-based early warning systems can to some degree prepare farmers for extreme weather events and facilitate safety nets such as weather-indexed crop insurance.

Trends in adaptation innovation

This publication provides in its various sections a short summary of major trends in innovation and technology for a particular technology area. Overall, innovation in technologies for adapting to climate change lags far behind that for climate mitigation. This is not surprising, given the often highly technical nature of emissions-reducing technologies.

Innovation in adaptation, as measured through patents, showed a 6.7 percent average annual growth in the period 1995 to 2015

Moreover, the technologies needed for adaptation are necessarily diverse and often less technologically sophisticated. It is also noteworthy that innovation in adaptation, as measured through patents, showed a 6.7 percent average annual growth in the period 1995 to 2015,

although this is still well below the 10.9 percent growth in mitigation innovation.[27] Innovation capabilities are stronger in high-income countries, likely reflecting the importance of a healthy innovation ecosystem as discussed in Chapter 2. The transfer of adaptation technology is also lower than for mitigation technologies, and lower even than for technologies in general, at least as measured by patents filed in more than one country. Agriculture and coastal protection technologies appear to be the least transferred groups.[28]

Many different kinds of innovation are becoming available in the three main sectors looked at in this publication. The agriculture sector is seeing significant developments in relation to optimized and sophisticated practices. This includes remote and in-field sensing data to acquire a detailed understanding of the condition of plants and animals and their needs. This information can guide a variety of machinery, for example to apply an exact dose of herbicide or water. This reduces the potentially harmful use of such products and saves resources. Many of these technologies best suit larger operations that have access to capital for investment in equipment. However, other advanced technologies may not need such large investment.

For example, that mobile devices are used almost everywhere means advanced data and control technologies can be relevant in smaller and poorer contexts. Also, simple improvements to techniques can play a significant role. For example, saving water can reduce a farmer’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. Moreover, many of the practices and technologies that come under the term climate-smart agriculture defy the dichotomy between mitigation and adaptation by being beneficial for both. Modifying plants and animals to better cope with a changing climate is also an active innovation area. But it is one which, depending on the methods applied, may carry with it some of the controversy around genetic modification.

In water conservation and management, there are many important innovations that help save water, as well as monitor its quality and how much is held in reserve. Here also remote and in-field sensors play an important role, for example in directing other technologies to regulate water use. Rainwater harvesting systems and water storage tanks can maintain supply during a dry spell. And in some countries a growing need for massive water desalination plants is driving innovation toward greater efficiency and lower costs. Water treatment and the advanced control of distribution networks combines several innovative technologies to realize impressive water savings. The need to protect against being inundated by too much water has prompted significant innovation in flood barriers, nature-based stormwater storage and early warning systems. Coastal zones are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Because they are often densely populated and important economic zones impacts here can be far reaching. Advanced modelling of water and sediment movement can help inform implementation of the most appropriate protection measure, be it beach nourishment, dikes or other hard or soft protection structures. But here also nature-based solutions such as the restoration of mangrove forests, coral and other types of reefs can be no-regret solutions with widespread benefits for people and marine ecosystems alike.

Cities are highly vulnerable to water, storm and heat stresses. Here innovation may also have solutions. Urban planning incorporating green infrastructure such as stormwater drainage and temporarily transforming underground parking and road networks into reservoirs can reduce a city’s vulnerability to heavy rainfall. New materials and green building design can help mitigate the impact of heatwaves and reduce the heat island effect found in most cities. Many options exist for greening the cityscape that can also increase surface water infiltration, reduce heat, provide shade, and even produce food.

Risk of maladaptation

Admittedly, we who made this publication are slightly techno-optimistic. However, that is not to say all technology is good in every context. There are risks and potential negative implications associated with new technology.

Planning for adaptation is a difficult process with many uncertainties. Implementing adaptation initiatives can therefore lead to unintended consequences or heighten vulnerabilities.[29] This is what is often referred to as maladaptation. For example, technologies like drip irrigation are efficient and conserve water in comparison to other irrigation systems. However, this very efficiency may also lead to an increase in the amount of land used to cultivate water-intensive crops, resulting in an overall increase in freshwater extraction.[30]

No-regret solutions provide benefits regardless of whether the actual climate change impacts will be as detrimental as feared

In Fiji, seawall construction designed to protect against rising sea levels has put certain population groups at risk. This is because these same seawalls prevent stormwater drainage, alter sediment deposits along the coast and damage the marine ecosystem.[31] When implementing new measures and technologies, it is therefore imperative to consider thoroughly any potential negative impacts, not only within but outside the targeted area, and to engage communities on the ground. For larger projects, environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) are a legal requirement in most countries.

Do it with nature – not against it

Nature-based solutions and so-called blue-green infrastructure solutions built on natural processes are both multipurpose solutions. That is to say, they seek to realize environmental, socioeconomic and climate resilience benefits simultaneously. They are often a part of no-regret solutions as they provide benefits regardless of whether the actual climate change impacts will be as detrimental as feared.

Nature-based solutions include the restoration of wetlands, mangroves and peatlands; the protection of costal and marine ecosystems; and the sustainable management of soils, farmland and forests. Other examples are urban green spaces, green roofs and walls, and water retention areas.[32] [33] [34] Nature-based solutions have gained traction in recent years, exemplified by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) 2022 resolution adopting a formal definition.[35] Whenever feasible, solutions should be designed in a such a way as to utilize and reinforce beneficial natural processes rather than work against them.

Fragile complexity

The more advanced, complex, automated and connected technologies become, the greater the risk of fragility entering the sysyem. Complex technologies may require special expertise to maintain and repair, and spare parts can be costly and time-consuming to access.

Also greater digitalization and technologies like the smart meters installed in people’s homes to manage water consumption raise privacy issues. The increasing interconnectedness of technologies is not evident solely in digitally-connected systems, but also within the very nature of global supply chains. A recent example is the Russian Federation–Ukraine Conflict, which has caused global prices for chemical fertilizers to rise sharply. This disruption has however re-focused interest on locally-made organic fertilizers and organic agriculture.

Unequal access

Access to adaptation technologies is not equal. This is important because marginalized population groups may be hardest hit by climate change. Marginalization can be the result of many factors including ethnicity, poverty, recent arrival, power relations, social segregation and gender. During a heatwave in India, factors such as caste and gender may impact who gets to stay cool.[36] For high-cost technologies such as solar irrigation pumps it is often rich men farmers who benefit most.[37] Indeed, many adaptation solutions require capital, training and labor which may be a barrier to households whose access to credit is limited, often female-headed ones. Gender may also determine who gets access to weather and climate information. An FAO-study in India found that only one-fifth (21 percent) of women had access to weather information versus 47 percent of men.[38] Gender inequalities are also apparent within the innovation ecosystem.

Complex technologies may require special expertise to maintain and repair, and spare parts can be costly and time-consuming to access

In Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, fewer than 30 percent of AgTech firm owners are women. In Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi, none are women. Women’s lack of access to digital services such as mobile phones may also a create barrier toward many farming technologies.[c1-31, 32] Because of this any investment or project targeting increased community access to adaptation technologies must consider factors such as gender, ethnicity, class, poverty and local power dynamics in order to ensure a broad and equal uptake.

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Adaptation funding

Adaptation is costly

Adapting to climate change is and will continue to be a major expense. USD 140–300 billion a year by 2030 is the current global indicative cost estimate,[39] although other recent studies … Read more

Adaptation funding

Adaptation is costly

Adapting to climate change is and will continue to be a major expense. USD 140–300 billion a year by 2030 is the current global indicative cost estimate,[39] although other recent studies indicate it could be higher. The agriculture, infrastructure and water sectors are likely to be most in need of funds, with demands for supporting ecosystems and the health sector growing. Unfortunately, the gap between available funding and what is needed is widening.[40]

The climate finance goal agreed at COP15 in Copenhagen for USD 100 billion to be provided each year by developed to developing countries by 2020 has yet to be met. And even this includes mitigation finance for the main part (58 percent), although the share for adaptation finance is increasing.[41] The COVID-19 pandemic has also negatively affected climate finance, as governments have had to set aside resources to finance urgent domestic priorities.[42]

Multiple climate finance sources

Finance for climate change comes in many forms and lacks a uniform definition. Largest funders are the development finance institutions (FIs) followed by corporations and commercial FIs. Developed countries contribute a comparatively small share of their budgets as direct financial support to developing countries. But nonetheless they do provide the bulk of the climate-relevant funding flowing through development FIs and multilateral funds. Together, these cover around 73 percent of climate finance. More than half (61 percent) of climate finance was raised as debt.[43] Many developing countries already spend significant resources on adaptation measures, and funding also comes from affected sectors such as real estate, infrastructure and agri-businesses, as climate adaptation is being factored into decisions and investments.

The majority of climate funding goes toward mitigation activities

Under the framework of the UNFCCC, a financial mechanism has been established by which several multilateral climate finance funds channel climate finance to developing countries. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) are the two major operating entities under the climate regime both in scale and focus. Also included are the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Adaptation Fund (AF).[44] The latter fund has a dedicated facility for innovation funding where innovation projects can apply for small or large grants though their national implementing entities.[45] The Adaptation Fund Climate Innovation Accelerator (AFCIA) provides small grants to innovators in developing countries. The Accelerator is administered by the Climate Technology Centre & Network (CTCN) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).[46] The majority of climate funding goes toward mitigation activities.

Of the total USD 632 billion climate finance mobilized globally in 2019–2020, only USD 46 billion – or 7 percent – was spent on adaptation.[47] This latter amount was provided almost exclusively by the public sector, as data on private sector adaptation spending is largely unavailable. For developing countries, the adaptation finance share is higher. Of the various funding sources, multilateral climate funds under the UNFCCC provide the highest ratio of adaptation finance and the most adaptation grant financing. Several exclusively fund adaptation, whereas the GCF is committed to a balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Multilateral development banks (MDBs) also have a high ratio of adaptation as opposed to mitigation finance at 35 percent, although they do provide the majority of their adaptation finance as loans, not grants. Of these, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has an adaptation share exceeding 50 percent. Among other multilateral development finance institutions, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) went so far as to increase its adaptation share from 40 percent in 2019 to 66 percent in 2020. Overall, adaptation finance is growing. In 2019/20, it was nearly double what it was two years earlier.[48]

Bankable adaptation

Adaptation is a long-term process sometimes requiring years to achieve results. Although frequently having a high societal value and providing public goods, adaptation projects may be less attractive financially due to a lower income-generating potential and higher project risks.[49] Compared to mitigation projects where impact can be quantified through emissions reductions, it may be more difficult to measure impacts from diverse adaptation projects requiring different sets of indicators. However, part of the deficit in investments into adaptation relates to a lack of bankable adaptation projects. Therefore there is a need to intensify the transformation of adaptation needs into bankable adaptation projects.

The cost of adaptation funding should be weighed against the costs that would otherwise be incurred by climate impacts.

Adaptation projects that adopt innovative business models and new technologies and have a clear metric of success are more likely to attract private and impact investment, as well as climate funds. While this may not always coincide with an urgent or relevant need on the ground, which may continue to rely on financial support from the public sector, the private sector does have an important role to play. Public banks and multilateral funds may offer support by building up developing countries’ capacity to formulate what is required for adaptation in terms of finance and technology, as well as define indicators and metrics, develop a business case and de-risk technology applications so as to overcome barriers to investment.

Adaptation funding is often oriented to the longer term, targeting complex and interrelated issues harder to quantify and monitor. But the cost of this should be weighed against the costs that would otherwise be incurred by climate impacts.

Such costs could be very large indeed and entail losses that are not purely economic such as a reduction in wellbeing, a loss of cultural practices and sites, and a loss of biodiversity. For the latter, the ecosystem-based services approach serves to reveal the socioeconomic value of biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. The potential costs of climate impacts may be far-reaching and threaten political and social stability, cause displacement, set in motion mass migrations and lead to widespread impoverishment and unrest. The accelerated funding for adaptation initiatives underway needs to match the speed and intensity of the climate impacts already upon us. Read less