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Adapt to Climate Change to Reduce Vulnerability for People & Eco-systems
Adaptation experts Sven Harmeling of Germanwatch, and
Sandeep Charmeling of the World Wide Fund for Nature WWF) say that as mitigation
measures have failed, climate change adaptation should now become compulsory to
reduce vulnerability for people and the eco-systems they inhabit, reports the UN
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 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.
IRIN Humanitarian news and analysis, from the UN Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (16 November 2011):
JOHANNESBURG – 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
Uncertainty around climate change will constantly change the
parameters of vulnerability. 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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”.