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A quick guide to what drives adaptation

South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation  Maite Nkoana-Mashabane with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres during a press conference after a Pre COP17 Ministerial meeting in South Africa
Not much hope for a deal in Durban: South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, (right) with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres (Jacoline Prinsloo)

The western world’s financial crisis is leaving governments less inclined to make deep cuts to the production of greenhouse gases if that means greater short-term costs to their economies.

That has added to the gloom around the likely outcome of the global climate change conference in Durban later in November, where governments will decide on the future direction of the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment phase of a deal to reduce emissions, which expires in 2012.

Some rich countries have started backing out. At the last round of UN climate talks, in Panama in October 2011, Canada, Japan and Russia indicated that they did not want to be part of the second commitment phase. British media have reported that the UK favours postponing the deal to 2020, and has been lobbying emerging economies China and India to join them.

The second commitment phase aims to restrict carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere to a level that would keep a rise in global temperature below two degrees Celsius.

But the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that within the next five years such irreversible damage could have been done to the climate that we could see global temperatures soar by two degrees Celsius and beyond by the turn of the century.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other climate scientists regard global warming of two degrees as catastrophic, bringing water stress in arid and semi-arid countries, more floods in low-lying coastal areas, coastal erosion in small island states, and the elimination of up to 30 percent of animal and plant species.

“To prevent that scenario, all future energy needs would effectively have to be zero-carbon,” said Antony Froggatt, an energy expert at British think-tank Chatham House. But, taking into account the number of fossil fuel power plants already under construction and the financial outlay, he said this would be “highly unlikely, if not impossible”.

In this scenario, “adaptation is unavoidable” even for rich countries, said Saleemul Huq, lead author on the subject in the IPCC’s last two assessment reports on climate change.

Adaptation experts Sven Harmeling of Germanwatch, and Sandeep Charmeling of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said with mitigation having failed, adaptation should now become compulsory to reduce vulnerability for people and the eco-systems they inhabit.

Given these circumstances, becoming more familiar with “adaptation” could be useful.

Cancun Adaptation Framework

The last formal round of UN climate talks in 2010, in Cancun, Mexico, was a turning point for countries seeking support to help them adapt to climate change. After three years of negotiations, the forum stated that adaptation should be given the same priority as mitigation.

A framework was adopted to help countries set up programmes and actions to reduce vulnerability and make them more resilient. It identifies countries that are most vulnerable and establishes how to address loss and damage on account of a changing climate.

The framework has five clusters: implementation, support, institutions, principles and stakeholder engagement. These cover issues such as providing financial and technical support in drawing up adaptation plans, ensuring that the process is country-driven, gender-sensitive and uses best science, and draws on indigenous knowledge.

Adaptation Committee

This is envisioned as the driver of adaptation in the UNFCCC process and will elaborate the Framework. As the advisory body on adaptation it also provides technical support to UNFCCC countries.

Membership of the committee has yet to be decided. Harmeling said they hoped it would become operational at the meeting in South Africa, and thought it could become a key institution beyond the UNFCCC, “building up coherence and consistency in the international response”.

Loss and damage

Inclusion of the words "loss and damage" in the Cancun Agreements and the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which could allude to compensation and a legal obligation on the part of developed countries, cheered many poor countries.

The Alliance of Small Island States, many of whose members are threatened by storm surges and sea-level rise brought on by climate change, have suggested a multi-window mechanism, including components that deal with compensation and insurance. The UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Implementation has been asked to suggest approaches to loss and damage, and will report back at COP 17.


Deciding on the criteria that determine which country is more vulnerable to ensure they are first in the line for technical and financial support has been hugely contentious. 
“Vulnerability’ means different things to different people. Human life, productive land, physical infrastructure and biological diversity are all vulnerable to climate change, but there is no consensus on which are more or most important,” said scientist Richard Klein, who is leading preparation of the chapter on adaptation for the upcoming IPCC assessment report.

He told IRIN that science cannot resolve the issue, and negotiators should not rely on external experts to “develop a definitive, objective and unchallengeable method to rank countries according to their vulnerability to climate change”. The solution will have to be arrived at politically, with a consensus “reflecting different and biased interpretations of vulnerability”.

Scientist Atiq Rahman, who led Bangladesh’s efforts to draw up an adaptation strategy, agreed that “It is not a beauty contest,” but thinks the issue will be resolved by the end of 2012.

Vulnerability analysis is a complex and often contradictory field. During recent droughts in Afghanistan the highest levels of malnutrition were found among the children of relatively wealthy shopkeepers and moneylenders who lost their capital and income when farmers couldn’t repay loans, but who weren’t eligible for relief from aid agencies, wrote Marcus Monech, president of the international body, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, in a new paper.

Existing approaches to measure vulnerability are “often of little use: at best, they reiterate what we already know; at worst, they are used to justify entrenched agendas. To be truly useful as a basis for dialogue, action and accountability, the meaning of ‘vulnerability’ must be clarified, and the methods for analysing it greatly strengthened,” he suggested.

However, Nanki Kaur, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), noted that “a ‘static’ approach to defining vulnerability is pointless. Uncertainty around climate change will constantly change the parameters of vulnerability.”

She advocates the approach Nepal has taken: a constant monitoring and evaluation process that aims to track changes to the parameters of vulnerability and adapt plans in response, beginning with the local government level and moving up.

Adaptation Fund

Set up exclusively to finance adaptation projects in vulnerable countries, the Fund started disbursing money in 2010. Unlike other UNFCCC mechanisms, it allows countries to have control over how they spend the money.

The Fund receives direct contributions from developed countries and also raises money from a levy of about 2 percent on credits generated by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established under the Kyoto Protocol.

The mechanism allows industrialized countries to earn and trade emission credits by implementing projects in developed or developing countries; they can then put the credits towards meeting their greenhouse gas emission targets.

The Fund has raised more than US$138 million through the levy, according to an independentclimate fund watch website run by two think-tanks, the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and the Overseas Development Initiative.

Insufficient funds are an ongoing concern. The UNFCCC has said that by 2030 poor countries would need $28-59 billion a year to adapt; the World Bank puts the amount at $20-100 billion; the European Union Commission says it will take $10-24 billion a year by 2020; and the African Group of climate change negotiators think more than $67 billion a year will be needed by 2020.

Saleemul Huq, from IIED, noted that although "money is available in the short term for initial projects", there could be "bottlenecks as more countries submit project proposals" .

Green Climate Fund

It was decided in Cancun to set up a fund with thematic windows to address the varying needs of countries to deal with climate change. A Transitional Committee was established to design the Green Climate Fund and will report back in Durban, said Klein.

“However, at the last meeting of the Transitional Committee… no consensus was reached about the final text of the 'Governing Instrument' to be forwarded to COP 17. On the insistence of the US and Saudi Arabia, the draft Governing Instrument will therefore not be forwarded with a recommendation to COP 17 to adopt it, but instead it will be submitted for consideration by COP 17, which in practice means that it will be reopened for negotiation.”

The proposed design was seen as “too closely linked” to the UNFCCC, which US negotiators felt would be unacceptable to the Republican majority in Congress.

This view was expressed in a joint blog by Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group (LDC); Fred Onduri Machulu, Former Chair of the LDC Expert Group at the UNFCCC; Munjurul H. Khan, a member of the Bangladesh government delegation to the UNFCCC; Carol Mwape LDC Transitional Committee member from Zambia and LDC group finance coordinator; and Benito Müller, Director of Energy & Climate Change at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

“Unfortunately, a link with the UN seems not the only taboo on Capitol Hill. ‘Climate change’ - or rather, ‘global warming’, in local parlance - and ‘multilateral’ (in the sense of sending taxpayers’ money abroad) are regarded as equally objectionable. So, short of turning the Green Climate Fund into a domestic fund for non-climate purposes, Congress is not going to appropriate funding for it in the foreseeable future,” they said.

"This must no doubt be painful for the present [Democrat] Administration, who we believe would very much wish to play a more positive role in these negotiations.”

Nairobi Work Programme (NWP)

The NWP was set up under the UNFCCC in 2005 to help developing countries understand, assess and adapt to the impact of climate change. Any country can become a partner and use the NWP data base to engage with other countries and the private sector to develop their own programmes. It maintains an evolving inventory on adaptation knowledge.

At Cancun the Parties decided to continue the Nairobi Work Programme - initially a five-year programme - pending a review, which was presented in Bonn in June 2011, said Klein.

The programme will feed into the Framework, and will now examine new sector-specific needs and cross-sectoral activities to be strengthened, including water, food security, ecosystems, infrastructure and human settlements.

Community-based adaptation (CBA)

This is a new concept. It recognizes that small communities are the most vulnerable and inadequately resourced to handle climate change. Projects are designed with the input of the community and take into account their needs and indigenous knowledge - many communities have generations of experience in coping with climate variability.

Adaptation projects look much like any other standard development project. "The difference lies not in what the intervention is, but in the inputs to the intervention. It is not what the community is doing but why, and with what knowledge,” said Huq, who is also a senior fellow at IIED.

“The adaptation element introduces the community to the notion of climate risk and then factors that into their activities. This makes them more resilient both to immediate climate variability and long-term climate change." But there are very few existing CBA projects, he said, and "they have hardly been tested for resilience to climate variability, let alone to climate change".




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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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