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Spending to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic will determine whether countries are better able to adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas as the planet warms – a challenge they have failed to meet so far, top U.N. officials have said. 

In the fifth edition of its Adaptation Gap Report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said some progress had been made on planning to protect economies and societies from the worsening impacts of climate change.

But not enough work had been done on the ground as funding fell far short of needs, with only an annual average of $30 billion available for adaptation in 2017-2018, compared with an estimated requirement of about $70 billion a year in developing countries alone.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said that, in 2020, floods, droughts and storms had affected 50 million people and wildfires had devastated forests and communities, even as countries struggled to deal with the pandemic.

“The only way to minimise these costs and damages is to race to adapt,” she said. “While we may be gathering pace, we are still losing this vital race.”

She and other leaders of U.N. agencies stressed that adaptation needed to happen in tandem with stepped-up efforts to reduce climate-heating emissions, as curbing global warming would lower the human and financial losses it causes.