By Climatico Contributor: Jean-Benoit Fournier
Adaptation to climate change, a topic largely covered in this forum in recent years, is back with a vengeance in the march towards the next Conference of Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. Back with a vengeance mainly because of the growing gap that seems to develop between the need for – and the supply of – adaptation solutions and funding. This gap, largely attributable to the timidity with which recent agreements have been reached, creates discontent amongst developing countries, international NGOs and, to some extent, the private sector, which is looking for strong signals from governments to propose climate change adaptation solutions.
Just a few weeks ago, the generally prudent International Energy Agency took an unusual step in its World Energy Outlook of 2011, warning the world that the business-as-usual scenario with regards to energy infrastructures and investment patterns might lead us into an energy lock-in that would allow the conditions for an irreversible climate change to materialize in just five years from now. Although this should be understood as a call for action to mitigate climate change before it is too late, it also indirectly acts as a reminder of how difficult it will be to steer the world away from a dangerous climate change scenario. It is rational for some vulnerable countries to, put simply, freak out, and ask that help be extended to them.
The World Bank, in a landmark study that combined top-down and bottom-up approaches to cost estimation, evaluated that adaptation to climate change, net of regular development funding and requirements, could represent costs between $4 billion to $109 billion a year. To those familiar with the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, this is old news: adaptation costs an awful lot more than early action (mitigation of the root causes of climate change) and some of the most vulnerable countries happen to be those with the least money to deal with these impacts.
Climate change adaptation, in the context of international negotiations of the UNFCCC, thus encompasses the necessity, mostly by developing nations, to reduce their country’s vulnerability to the current and future impacts of climate change and/or boost their adaptive capacity.
Progress on the adaptation front at Durban will likely be directly linked to the last COP in Cancún, where Parties reached an agreement on the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a vehicle aimed at managing international donors’ money devoted to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As mentioned in earlier articles, the final format of the GCF has not yet been agreed upon. However, a Transitional Committee (TC) has been mandated with coming up with recommendations for approval in Durban.
The TC’s recommendations are visibly aimed at generating consensus, making sure that this funding mechanism would be jointly controlled by developed and developing countries, balance mitigation and adaptation in funding decisions, and build on the efforts already undertaken by several international financial institutions, regional development banks and UN institutions.
Sadly, this is probably one of the only good news to expect from Durban with regards to adaptation, namely that negotiators may eventually agree upon the structure of the GCF. As noted by China’s top climate change official, Xie Zhenhua, the current financial uncertainty and European difficulties could end up playing a damping role on the climate talks, especially when it comes to funding, so it might be wise not to expect big announcements with regards to funding.
Under a conservative scenario for adaptation funding, the Durban talks could end up being slightly more than a procedural step leading to an agreement on the form that this funding-to-come could take. In the best of scenarios, one could imagine that the GCF could be amended as to create enough incentives to, at best, secure current commitments by donor states and the private sector.