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Regions employ nature-based, financial and legal instruments to outperform on adaptation

While climate measures have sought to mitigate future climate change through reducing emission levels, efforts to adapt communities to harmful changes happening now have fallen short. Frustrated by the lethargy of national adaptation strategies, regions are employing all the tools in their power to build resilience. 

On Adaptation, Loss and Damage day at COP26, regional leaders gathered at the session ‘The leading role of regions in raising ambitions for adaptation and resilience’  in the Multilevel Action Pavilion to address the elephant in the room – climate adaptation. 

Extreme weather events ravaged the world this summer, with not even the most developed nations able to escape devastating impacts: 595 lives were lost to the heat dome in British Columbia, Canada, as floodwaters decimated entire towns in Germany.

Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), admits that adaptation measures globally have been too slow.

“[…] we’ve been able to reduce our emissions, […] but we didn’t move fast enough on adaptation. One in every fifteen acres has burned in wildfires in the last two years. My kids can’t play outside in the wildfire season due to toxic smoke.” – Wade Crowfoot

This vulnerability hasn’t gone unnoticed and regional governments have been mobilizing to build resilience within their communities. One fruit of that labor is the RegionsAdapt program. Led by Regions4, the government of Rio de Janeiro and of Catalonia, the program strengthens regional resilience through knowledge exchange, capacity building and sharing of best practices.

Regions release new report on adaptation

“We knew adaptation had to be higher on the global agenda, but also that regions needed to be recognized”, explains Natalia Uribe, Regions4 Secretary General. So far, its 76 signatory regions represent over 300 million citizens and encourage more impactful climate adaptation at the regional scale. 

During the session, RegionsAdapt launched their special COP26 report,  Raising ambitions on climate adaptation: Lessons learnt and contributions from regional governments, which showcases concrete, exemplary cases of how regional governments are spearheading urgently needed adaptation strategies. 

The aim is not to gloat. Rather, the report strives to inspire fellow subnational governments and to highlight the unique positioning of regions as the connecting link between national and local levels. Without this link, climate adaptation plans run the risk of becoming misaligned with local needs and less effective.

That’s the danger, Maria José Sanz, Director of the Basque Center for Climate Change, (BC3), sees in the Paris Agreement’s call for a global adaptation goal. “It’s dangerous to start thinking about a top-down global goal. It needs to emanate from the bottom upwards […]It’s about local and regional adaptation plans.” 

Legal instruments lead the way

Difficulty with vertical integration is not the only challenge regions are tackling. Horizontal integration will be decisive in adaptation success. The Basque Country is utilizing legal instruments to cement that integration, according to its Minister for Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment, the Rt Hon. Maria Aranzazu Tapia. Its KLIMA 2050 Climate Change Strategy seeks to align the regional government’s different departments on climate issues and intertwine measures to maximize co-benefits. 

Catalonia is likewise harnessing legal instruments to ramp up its adaptation action. In 2019, it repealed the Decree 147/2009, which restricted renewable energy expansion in the region, and replaced it with the Decree 26/2019 to ensure the region meets the targets set in its 2017 Climate Protection Act. One of the improvements the Decree 26/2019 brings is simplified installation of photovoltaic systems for private households, effectively removing the need for residents to apply for a building permit to install. 

 “Today the average temperature in Catalonia is 1.6°C higher than baseline levels. Our seas are rising 3.3cm every 10 years.” – Pere Aragonèes

The rapid succession of new sustainability measures reflects Catalonia’s recognition of the urgency of adaptation needs to the climate crisis, stresses Hon Pere Aragonèes, President of the Government of Catalonia. Other regions are also feeling the heat. Literally. Pablo Jurado Moreno, Provincial Prefect of Imbabura, Ecuador and President of CONGOPE, a consortium of regional governments, spoke of the climate-induced droughts and forest fires in his prefect. In line with the RegionsAdapt ethos, CONGOPE is drawing on the collective knowledge of its members to build resilience against these impacts.

Nature-based and innovative solutions 

Decrees and climate laws aren’t the only weapons regions are wielding. Referring to the water issues in Flanders, its Minister of Justice and Enforcement, Environment, Energy and Tourism, Hon. Zuhal Demir, outlined plans for nature-based solutions against drought. “One problem is rapid water drainage into rivers. […] We drain valuable rainwater away in winter and pump up groundwater, causing alterations in groundwater levels.” 

Flanders’ Blue deal, launched in 2020, sketches out solutions to these water challenges. It supports the restoration of wetlands, as well as of rivers, to retain and filter rainwater sustainably. Measures which also reduce flood risks and create opportunities for biodiversity and for a greener, healthier living environment.

“We will work with nature, not against it” – Zuhal Demir 

This use of nature-based solutions for climate adaptation and social resilience was echoed among regional leaders, including Hon. David Speirs, Minister for Environment and Water, South Australia. Like many regions, South Australia is suffering from more frequent extreme heat events. In the metropole of Adelaide, these effects render unshaded space unusable and dangerously hot. That’s why South Australia has established a grant scheme for regreening Adelaide’s inner city, explains Speirs. “As well as providing councils with funds to cool streets through tree planting, we’re supporting inner city residents in Adelaide to create green walls and roofs.”

Financial mechanisms needed to deliver just adaptation

These nature-based adaptation actions, however, urgently need finance. In a major breakthrough, the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund recently granted £1 million to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, which aims to prepare communities worldwide for climate risks and repair damages wreaked by flooding and other natural disasters, a cause that other developed countries have deemed as off-limits.

Scotland’s minister for Environment and Land Reform, Màiri McAllan MSP, acknowledges that this action goes in the right direction, but not far enough. “It’s not the amount we need, but we hope, as the first… to do this that others will follow”, she stated, reiterating Scotland’s commitment to supporting other regions adapt across the world. 

 “We are investing substantial funds into flood risk management and coastal change as part of our Covid-19 Green Recovery. Crucially, we also recognise our responsibility extends far beyond our own borders.” – Màiri McAllan

More funding is needed by national governments and the international community to ensure that climate adaptation is just, to ensure that no region is left behind. This is the paragon of multilevel action in climate adaptation, adds McAllan, “…supported from above, developed and implemented from below with regions, with those above providing the enabling conditions and basis for multilevel adaptation”.


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