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Adaptation from Copenhagen to Cancún

Thousands of survivors Cyclone Aila found themselves marooned at the end of March 2010 when the earthen embankments meant to protect them gave way to rising river water levels

The world will probably not crack a comprehensive climate change treaty in Cancún, Mexico, in December 2010 but the forecast for a deal on how to help countries adapt to erratic weather patterns is partly sunny.

That was the prediction by most aid agencies and analysts following the adaptation track of the negotiations, but their forecasts came with the rider that finance for the adaptation package would have to be agreed. So, from Copenhagen to Bonn to Cancun, what is there to be hopeful about?

"There was emerging consensus on several [adaptation] issues" at the high-level talks held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009, said Sven Harmeling, senior advisor of Germanwatch, a North-South watchdog initiative, and Sandeep Chamling Rai, adaptation policy coordinator of the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, in their paper, Adaptation from Copenhagen to Cancún.

Harmeling and Rai were upbeat because the Copenhagen adaptation text, as it stands, addresses some important elements: the process has to be "country-driven", "gender-sensitive" and "participatory", and will target the most vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems.

Developing countries and NGOs have long raised questions about who decides which criteria allow countries to qualify for funds, who they ask to assess their adaptation needs, and turn to for technical assistance.

Harmeling and Rai said the current structure was "too fragmented" because these questions were addressed separately by different bodies and expert groups in the UNFCCC process. The adaptation text now includes three proposed solutions: an Adaptation Committee, an Advisory Board and a Subsidiary Body for Adaptation.

Sarah Wiggins of Tearfund, a development NGO, said most NGOs supported an Adaptation Committee, which would be a technical "rather than a political body to carry out key adaptation functions ... This could ensure a more coherent way forward on adaptation in the UNFCCC discussions." WWF's Rai said countries were trying to "flesh out the role and responsibilities of the adaptation committee" before they decided.

Managing the money

In the potholed road to agreement on climate change all countries acknowledge that adaptation is urgent, and this was backed up by the promise of developed countries at the Copenhagen talks to provide US$30 billion over the next three years to fast-track adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries.

''Getting more money for adaptation and disaster risk reduction will 'hinge on countries being able to demonstrate that resources will be used wisely'''

The US is not party to the Kyoto Protocol - the treaty to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, administered by the UNFCCC - and so cannot contribute to the Adaptation Fund set up under the Protocol.

"It is another matter that the money has yet to materialize, and we don't how it will be channelled," said Saleemul Huq, head of the climate change group at the UK-based International Institute for Environment and International Development.

Harmeling and Rai also acknowledged that the promise of fast-track finance promised in Copenhagen, to be "allocated in a balanced manner between adaptation and mitigation" was "unprecedented and shows that adaptation is – at least verbally – recognised as being crucially important".

They noted that "Near-term adaptation funding is very urgent, since impacts are already unfolding and the world is already committed to significant climate change impacts from past emissions."

Huq said discussions following the adaptation track at the latest round of talks in Bonn, Germany, in June 2010, "were held in a friendly atmosphere", and he was optimistic that an agreement on "short-term" adaptation was feasible in Cancún, partly because the money for short-term adaptation was more likely to come through.

Developing countries had something to cheer about in Bonn: they have long wanted the UN rather than the World Bank to handle adaptation funds, but the US has been reluctant to agree; now its stance has shifted.

"All signals suggest that the US, especially, has changed its tune and is now more willing to consider the possibility of management and secretarial functions of a new climate fund," which would report to the UNFCCC, said Antonio Hill, climate policy advisor to the development agency, Oxfam.

"This was definitely an issue where progress was seen in Bonn, and that can be built on to deliver something worthwhile in Cancun - even if bigger issues around finance sources and scale still have to be decided later on," he commented.

"More importantly, whatever new agreement is ultimately forged, it does need a new financial mechanism to rationalize the large and growing spaghetti bowl of funds," said Hill.


The adaptation text also contains a proposal for setting up an insurance mechanism to help countries cope with intense natural disasters, such as droughts and cyclones, and another for addressing loss and damage resulting from climate change.

WWF's Rai said talks on the insurance mechanism were "moving quite okay" and Switzerland had organized a side event in Bonn to discuss this with other countries.

Compensation was trickier. Hill said any language linking climate change with loss and damage could imply an "admission of liability [on the part of the developed countries] for an unspecified and potentially unlimited set of losses".

A recommendation was made in Bonn to extend the Nairobi Work Programme - set up in 2005 under the UNFCCC in the talks on the scientific track of negotiations, for a five-year period - to help developing countries understand and assess the impact of climate change, and help them adapt.

"We support having such a body [Nairobi Work Programme] to look at the practical out workings of adaptation. It helps to address the gap in understanding between the scientists, and the communities in developing countries who are already being hit hard by climate change," said Tearfund's Wiggins, agreeing to the extension.

Getting the money

As usual, the entire adaptation package hinges on money. Developing countries and humanitarian aid agencies welcomed the short-term funding of $30 billion, with a long-term $100 billion a year by 2020, pledged in Copenhagen, but there has not been any clarity on how funding will be disbursed.

"The EU has announced that it would provide $7.6 billion of the short-term funding for the first year, but we don't know whether the money is new, and additional to the funds being provided as official assistance to developing countries," Huq pointed out. He and two other academics have called for a UN-based system to define baselines for counting funds and monitoring pledges and payments.

"This text will only be meaningful if the finance starts to flow in terms of fast-start finance and long-term finance, and both the sources and governance of long-term finance are agreed, so that new and additional predictable finance flows to the poorest and most vulnerable countries to enable them to adapt," said Tearfund's Wiggins.

Hill suggested that developing countries "Put in place national-level mechanisms ... to assess vulnerability, [and] manage and deliver resources ... to prevent the worst impact of growing climate hazards," because getting more money for adaptation and disaster risk reduction will "hinge on countries being able to demonstrate that resources will be used wisely."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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