By Gustavo Pinheiro

Last month, on a Monday night, Rio de Janeiro experienced the impacts of weather extremes. Over 300 millimeters of rain fell on the city in a 24 hour period. What would be an extreme condition for any city was aggravated in the case of Rio de Janeiro. The particular geography of the city, the disorderly occupation of areas of risk, and the enormous deficiency of works of infrastructure contributed to the worsening of the situation.

While the Mayor, Marcelo Crivella, pointed to the atypical nature of the rain, it is important to appreciate that this phenomenon is increasingly present in the daily life of the residents of Rio de Janeiro. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as torrential rainfall concentrated in short periods, which accentuate the impacts on the city and its population, are predicted by the weather models.

Science has already indicated that this is predictable, but the climate change agenda at government level is faltering. While the local government displays flagrant unpreparedness, the situation at the federal level is no less agonizing. The national climate agenda remains without governance and it is not prioritized by the Ministry of the Environment.

The Ministry is responsible for the National Adaptation Plan, which was launched in 2016 and had the cooperation of society and other ministries in its preparation. The targets established by the plan have not even been incorporated by the current minister in his plans for the management of the Ministry.

However, there is no use ignoring the facts. The reality imposes itself. In the case of climate change, nature is implacable. It has no ideology and it only respects the laws of physics, which cannot be altered by decree or by dogmas of any kind.

There is much to do, as a society, in order to reduce the vulnerabilities of the population and the infrastructure to the impacts of extreme weather events. To begin, it is necessary to recognize that we have a problem. We are not prepared to deal with the new climate reality.

By recognizing the seriousness of the climate crisis and its impacts on society, it is possible to advance the implementation of adaptation actions. The National Adaptation Plan presents nine targets, of which six are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment – which are the starting point for the adaptation actions to climate change in Brazil.

It is urgent that the National Adaptation Plan is recognized by the new Minister as an instrument to promote the reduction of the vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Its prioritization would enable advances in the management of the risks associated with extreme weather events. Confronting climate change requires coordinated action between the three levels of government, and begins with the recognition of the seriousness and the urgency of the climate crisis.

Gustavo Pinheiro is the coordinator of low carbon economy at the Institute for Climate and Society

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