A group of leaders from business, politics and science have called for a massive investment in adapting to climate change in the next decade, arguing it would reap significant returns as countries avoid catastrophic losses and boost their economies.

The Global Commission on Adaptation, comprising dozens of prominent figures including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, urged governments and businesses to tackle the inevitable consequences of climate change, in addition to trying to curb it.

In their 81-page report, the experts proposed investing US$1.8 trillion between 2020 and 2030 in areas such as early-warning systems, infrastructure able to withstand rising sea levels and extreme weather, and boosting agriculture to cope with droughts. Other areas they propose investing in are bolstering scarce water resources and improving mangrove forests that provide key protection to vulnerable shorelines in developing nations.

Ban cited Bangladesh's response to two killer cyclones as an example of the way countries could adapt to threats to the environment. After hundreds of thousands of deaths in 1970 and 1991, it reinforced flood defences, built shelters and trained volunteers, sharply cutting the death toll in later storms.

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The commission also pointed to places such as the Netherlands and London, where protection measures had allowed valuable land to be used that would otherwise have risked flooding.

While rich countries already had the means to invest in such measures, poor nations risked losing out, the group said.

"If we do not act now, climate change will supercharge the global gap between the haves and have-nots," said Ban.

Christiana Figueres, a former UN official who helped forge the 2015 Paris accord, said talk on adaptation had for years been neglected, compared with efforts to mitigate, or lessen, climate change.

"Mitigation and adaptation are actually two sides of the very same coin," she said. "If we delay mitigation any further we will never be able to adapt sufficiently to keep humanity safe. And if we delay adaptation we will pay such a high price that we would never be able to look at ourselves in the mirror."

A UN climate-change summit will be held this month.

- AP