Adaptation to climate change as an opportunity for post-COVID-19 recovery

Strengthening planning processes for climate change adaptation presents an opportunity for COVID-19 response strategies to bring, in addition to economic recovery, a more climate-resilient future and in harmony with our natural environment. This was one of the main conclusions of the dialogue between 10 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean in the framework of the “NAP Action Days”, which took place virtually last October 20 and 21.

The virtual meeting served as a space for exchange of experiences between decision-makers in government institutions and technical project managers who lead initiatives to advance adaptation planning in their country. National Adaptation Plans, or NAPs, allow countries to better understand the impacts of climate change in different sectors, territories and communities in order to properly prioritize climate change resilient development measures.

Climate change and COVID-19 present common challenges. Both phenomena have shown a negative impact on socio-environmental justice since they affect the most vulnerable populations to a greater extent. Participants of the “NAP Action Days” indicated their concern about the relationship between the pandemic and the increase in poverty, which makes it even more difficult to finance the necessary climate change adaptation actions. In addition, considering the natural resource–intensive economies of the region, in an attempt to achieve an economic rebound, governments could be tempted to increase the negative impact on ecosystems.

A green and climate-resilient recovery, however, could become a beneficial alternative for economies affected by the pandemic and, at the same time, for the climate change adaptation agenda.

The community-based approach proposed by the NAPs helps to articulate responses to the pandemic through the creation of alliances and cooperation networks at the local level. Likewise, by mobilizing communities in sustainable and climate-resilient actions, vertical integration is achieved, and with it, lessons of the field work are fed back into the political instruments for planning and budgeting.

Most of the NAP processes in Latin America and the Caribbean also seek to promote the conservation, restoration and regeneration of healthy ecosystems that contribute both to climate action and to the sustainability of ecosystem services, such as water resources, regulation of microclimates, and soil fertility for food security. Additionally, the preservation of natural habitats reduces the risk of future epidemics or pandemics of zoonotic diseases. An approach for sustainable and integrated water resources management is also being prioritized within the NAPs, as a fundamental investment to guarantee access to water for sanitary purposes, an essential element in the response to the current pandemic.

Finally, the participants of this event organized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pointed out the role of tourism-reactivation in the climate agenda and post-crisis recovery. A call was made to find formulas to integrate the resources that will be allocated to the tourist sector into the green recovery. They considered that it is necessary to structure investments in resilient tourism aimed at respecting ecosystems and allowing an economic reactivation aligned with the climate and sustainable development agendas.

Some of the participants of the NAP Action Days virtual dialogue

With funding from the Green Climate Fund, UNEP and UNDP support more than 10 countries in the region to strengthen their climate change adaptation planning processes through the NAPs. In this work, the “NAP Action Days” is an inter-agency initiative (UNEP/UNDP) that aims to promote and facilitate dialogue between the coordinating teams of these projects in the region, so that they share experiences and lessons learned and can generate synergies and join efforts to adaptation to climate change.