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Mind the other gap: adapting to climate change, as well as limiting it, is critical for developing countries

11/15/2016 01:59 am ET | Updated Nov 15, 2016

The US presidential election aside, the build-up to the latest round of climate talks now under way in Morocco was dominated by two events: the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, and the release of the UN's Emissions Gap report.

The first was a moment to cheer the international community for recognizing the gravity of climate change and the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The second was a stark reminder that the action pledged so far is not nearly enough.

Both were important and deservedly drew global attention to the need to mitigate climate change. But they shouldn't obscure another very pressing need: helping developing countries adapt to the impacts from climate change that we cannot prevent.

Developing nations carry little responsibility for the vast amounts of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Yet they are forecast to bear the brunt of changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, and they lack the resources to cope. Indeed, many communities are already facing impacts, from more-frequent droughts in East Africa to increased coastal flooding in low-lying Bangladesh.

This year is on course to be the hottest since modern record keeping began, breaking the record set in 2005. Global temperatures are already 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Regardless of how well we do on reducing emissions, developing nations need help, and they need it now.

We are at least seeing movement on that front. Developed countries have committed to mobilizing $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020. The Paris Agreement called for those funds to be equally split between mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts.

However, the latest UN Environment study of adaptation costs in developing countries indicates that they could be up to five times higher than previously estimated, especially if the pledges made in Paris to cut emissions are not quickly implemented and stepped up significantly.

To put that in figures: previous estimates put the cost of adaptation at $70-$100 billion a year from 2010 to 2050. But a fresh review of national and sector studies suggests the cost could range from $140-$300 billion by 2030, and from $280-$500 billion by 2050.

To be sure, significant adaptation finance is beginning to flow.

According to our research, total bilateral and multilateral finance for climate change adaptation reached $25 billion in 2014. $22.5 billion went to help regions including South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa with projects such as water and wastewater management.

Most public finance is likely to flow through development and climate finance institutions such as the UNFCCC's Green Climate Fund. By the end of 2015, just over $35 billion, or 76 per cent of the resources pledged to such adaptation-focused climate funds, had been approved for disbursement.

As well as needing more funds for adaptation, developing countries want the money already pledged to be released more quickly.

The Least Developed Countries Fund has cleared projects worth more than $170 million but does not have funding available. However, the Green Climate Fund says it is on course to meet its target of committing $2.5 billion by the end of the year.

With the Paris Agreement in force, it is right to salute its historic importance, and to urge the signatories to re-double their efforts to head off the worst of global warming. But that should be matched by a more ambitious and faster-moving effort to adapt the planet to unavoidable impacts.

In many cases, it is the poorest countries - and their poorest communities - who will be hit the hardest. Unless they are helped in time, the future could bring a surge in climate-change-induced hunger, mass displacement, and economic and political breakdown.

That could push the already high cost of addressing climate change up much, much higher.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.

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