As the UN climate change talks get underway in Doha on 26 November, a series of new papers is highlighting unresolved issues and raising questions about the quality and quantity of aid being made available to help poor countries adapt to a warming earth.
Rich countries are falling far short of their obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which calls for them to provide funds to enable poor countries to adapt to climate change.
This was the conclusion of several recent studies, which used a variety of approaches to examine how affluent countries are fulfilling their obligations. Problems identified included: discrepancies in reporting the funds allocated to adaptation efforts; lack of a common understanding of what “adaptation” and “vulnerability” mean; and lack of transparency.
A study for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says poor information and lack of transparency “made it very difficult” to assess how the rich countries were helping poorer ones reduce vulnerability to climate change.
Still, the Least Developed Countries’ Fund (LDCF) - a grossly underfunded resource established under the UNFCCC to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change - offered an indicator.
The LDCF has only received US$536.7 million of the required US$3 billion. Only two per cent of funds pledged by rich countries in 2009 to kick-start adaptation programmes has been channelled through UN funds like the LDCF. “It is safe to say there is an urgent need for improvement,” noted the IIED report.
|...it is not enough just for cyclone shelters and flood defense walls to be built. Donors and developing countries need to show that vulnerable communities are more able to take control of their own futures in the face of the new stresses of climate change|
In spite of repeated calls to make equal amounts of money available for adaptation projects and projects aimed at mitigating climate change, only one-fifth of all funding for climate change programmes is going to adaptation.
“Less than half of committed funds are grants,” say the IIED researchers - all affiliated with Brown University in the US - who were led by David Ciplet.
Ciplet, who wrote two of four recent scientific papers on this topic, says decisions of the UNFCCC “provide a strong basis for a justice-oriented approach to adaptation finance. However, in practice, adaptation finance has reflected developed country interests far more than the principles of justice adopted by Parties.”
The IIED report, which measured rich countries’ obligations against their capacity or national income and their share of emissions, found that Japan and Norway were contributing well above their shares - 291 percent and 492 percent more, respectively.
But another study by NGOs Germanwatch and Bread for the World found that ostensible adaptation activities funded by Japan and the US (the two biggest climate project funders) in poor countries could not strictly be described as adaptation related.
Keeping adaptation separate
The responsibility of paying to help poor countries adapt to climate change has been a long-standing bone of contention. Poor countries maintain that money provided as climate-change funding must be “new and additional” to official development assistance provided by rich countries.
This prompted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee, in 2010, to develop a reporting system that distinguishes adaptation projects from other development assistance.
The system scores projects based on their objectives; projects with climate change adaptation as the principal objective receive a score of 2; projects where adaptation is a secondary objective receive a score of 1.
The system reported its first set of data this year, which Germanwatch and Bread for the World examined. They found that about 65 percent of all activities listed are actually unrelated to adaptation. For instance, several projects that aimed to provide clean drinking water were listed as adaptation activities.
Of the remaining 35 percent, only about half are correctly listed, while most of the remaining activities are “over-coded,” incorrectly indicating that adaptation is a primary objective.
Authors Lisa Junghans and Sven Harmeling surmise the problem could be lack of understanding of the term “adaptation”, since projects are often coded by officials who may not be climate experts.
But they go on to add: “While this practice might already result in mis-codings, the risk is amplified because projects are not being double-checked by OECD officials.” This, they said, raises serious questions about “to what extent countries purposely over-code their projects.”
Harmeling recommends that projects indicate their objectives and outcomes, and that that they be distinguished from development or environmental protection activities. He also said the OECD may need to provide “examples on what should not be considered as climate change adaptation”.
Valérie Gaveau, a statistical analyst with OECD, said the organization would undertake a review of the data early next year, which will “provide an opportunity to double-check” the points raised by the paper.
Argument for integration
On the other hand, Sarah Wiggins, the climate policy officer with the NGO Tearfund, argues that climate change adaptation should not be separated from development efforts; rather, she and her colleagues argue, they should be integrated. “Any projects designed to adapt to climate change should also be designed to ensure ongoing development,” the paper says.
They argue that donors are under pressure to show quick results, but "it is not enough just for cyclone shelters and flood defense walls to be built. Donors and developing countries need to show that vulnerable communities are more able to take control of their own futures in the face of the new stresses of climate change, as well as in response to all the different stresses that they face.”
They suggest each poor country have its own “transparent and accountable adaptation funding [mechanism], into which it can invest its own country’s money, and a range of bilateral and multilateral funding (so that it is not reliant on one funding source). From this, it could disburse the funding to multiple sectors and agencies”.
The Adaptation Fund, a fund set up under the UNFCCC, recently became operational and was hailed as being a more transparent system. But it is faring no better, says a review by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Authors Åsa Persson Elise Remling and Marion Davis say the “Adaptation Fund’s raison d’être is to support countries that are ‘particularly vulnerable’, and ‘level of vulnerability’ is also an allocation criterion.” However, the Fund has been unable to agree to a set of vulnerability indicators to use as criteria for fund disbursement.
Persson said a common definition of “vulnerability” - which has been a hotly contested issue in previous UN climate change meetings - could help.
In the meantime, the researchers urged the Adaptation Fund to become more transparent about the criteria used to allocate money.
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