Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity, with far-reaching and devastating impacts on people, the environment, and the economy. Climate impacts affect all regions of the world and cut across all sectors of society. People who did the least to cause the problem—especially those living in poverty and fragile areas—are most at risk.


  • Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050. The 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected.
  • The number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050.
  • Rising seas and greater storm surges could force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with a total cost to coastal urban areas of more than $1 trillion each year by 2050.
  • Climate change could push more than 100 million people within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030.
  • The costs of climate change on people and the economy are clear. The toll on human life is irrefutable. The question is how will the world respond: Will we delay and pay more or plan ahead and prosper?

Three revolutions for a better future:

  • A Revolution in Understanding to ensure that the risks societies and economies face are fully understood—and reflected in the decisions that public and private actors make. A key element is the need to make risk visible, requiring more precise characterization of who and what is at risk—and why. As part of making risk visible, the public and private sectors can work together to more explicitly price risk in both economic and financial decision-making. Equally important is to understand what works and what options to prioritize by supporting experiential learning, stimulating innovations in science and technology, sharing solutions, and piloting new business models and financial services. It is important to consider all forms of knowledge, recognizing that valuable local knowledge rests with communities and indigenous populations.
  • A Revolution in Planning to improve how we make policy and investment decisions and how we implement solutions. The climate challenge is both urgent and pervasive across virtually all economic sectors. Mainstreaming in the public sector begins with upstream macroeconomic analysis and extends through risk screening, environmental and social impact assessments, budgeting, permitting, and project design. Since many climate impacts are local, devolving planning and even financial responsibility to those most affected is critical. In the private sector, companies worldwide are starting to improve planning to protect their operations and assets from climate risks, but current levels of physical risk disclosure remain low. Both the public and private sectors need to learn to better incorporate high levels of uncertainty in their decision-making, as choices will need to be made soon between radically different options—long before we know if the world will actually be on a 1.5°C or a 4°C pathway.
  • A Revolution in Finance to mobilize the funds and resources necessary to accelerate adaptation. Even though the imperative for action is clear, money is not flowing at the pace or scale needed. The public sector, first, is an essential provider of finance to protect people and livelihoods across communities and sectors; and second, is an enabler of increased private sector finance through disclosure requirements, metrics, and incentives, like buying down the risk of providing financial services to small-holder producers. The private sector will increase investments on its own account, but it should also increasingly complement the public sector in sharing the costs and benefits of adaptation investments, such as for infrastructure, contingency finance, and insurance. Finally, there is a critical need for higher levels of international financial support for adaptation in developing countries. Fully implemented, these three revolutions will protect lives, livelihoods, homes, and jobs in the face of climate change.


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