Moving the Adaptation Agenda Forward

Saleemul Huq

As COP 9 approaches with the Kyoto Protocol yet to come into force—due to the non-ratification by key Annex I countries—it is becoming abundantly clear that efforts devoted to put in place strong and binding efforts to reduce the future emissions of greenhouse gases are going to fall very much short of what had been hoped.  This means that for the short to medium term, at least in the next two decades, the world will be faced with the adverse impacts of climate change. There is already growing evidence that the predictions of global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions may already be impacting different parts of the world (e.g. unusually hot weather in India and Europe during the summer of 2003, which resulted in thousands of premature deaths).

All countries of the world, including both the rich, developed countries as well as the poorer developing countries, will have to face the consequences of such adverse impacts of climate change in the near future.  However, while the richer, developed countries have the financial and technical capacities to deal with the problem, both at the level of their citizens, communities and private sector as well as at the governmental, policy-making levels, the poorer, developing countries have neither the financial nor the technical capacities to deal adequately with the looming problem. Among developing countries, two groups have already been identified in the UNFCCC as especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, namely the small islands developing states (SIDS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  Together, these two groups comprise of over 80 countries and have a total population of over half a billion people.

The signatories to the UNFCCC have already recognised that not all countries are equally responsible for the problem of climate change and that those countries that have accepted that they bear the major responsibility (i.e. the developed countries listed by name in Annex I of the Convention) also bear the responsibility to help the countries that will be the victims of the adverse impacts of climate change.  The response measures needed for all countries to deal with the adverse impacts of climate change are known as adaptation to climate change—as opposed to mitigation that deals with the reduction of the emissions of greenhouse gases—and have been promoted primarily by the developing countries.  They were only able to get the issue of adaptation to be taken seriously from seventh conference of parties (COP 7) in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the “Marrakesh Funds” were set up, and in COP 8 in Delhi, India in October 2002, where the Delhi Declaration emphasised the need to focus more on adaptation and not only mitigation.

The Marrakesh Funds for Adaptation

At COP 7 in Marrakesh, a number of new funds were created. These are collectively referred to as the “Marrakesh Funds” and all are supposed to fund adaptation but in different ways.  They consist of the following:

1. The least developed countries (LDC) Fund to support the efforts of the LDCs to, initially, carry out National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs). The fund is made up from voluntary contributions from a few developed countries and administered through the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  To date it has received contributions of about $20 million, which are being used to help each of the 49 LDCs carry out their respective NAPAs over the next two years. The NAPAs, in turn, are expected to enable each LDC to assess the most vulnerable regions and communities in each country and prioritise adaptation actions that they would like to undertake.  It is expected that the LDC Fund would then be replenished and be able to support such prioritised adaptation actions.
2. The Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) was set up to support a number of activities including, but not exclusively, adaptation in all developing countries and was also to be administered through the GEF.  The source of contributions to this fund will be through voluntary contributions from the developed countries and some countries have made a (non-binding) promise that the total funds may be about $450 million per year.  However, the SCCF is not due to become operational until 2005 and the guidance for use of the funds is to be discussed and decided at COP 9 in Milan, Italy in December 2003.
3. The Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund is the only one of the Marrakesh Funds, which has the word “adaptation” in its title and is supposed to support “concrete” adaptations.  However, it is set up under the Kyoto Protocol, while the other two funds are set up under the UNFCCC, and will get contributions from the proceeds of an “adaptation levy” of 2% of all transactions on all clean development mechanism (CDM) projects under the Kyoto Protocol.  Thus, there is very little likelihood of any funds being actually available in this fund until the end of the first commitment period (2008 to 2012) of the Kyoto Protocol.

Where do we go from here?

The future of the UNFCCC process is highly dependent on whether or not the Kyoto Protocol finally comes into force.  Thus there are two major paths forward:
1. If Kyoto comes into force: If this happens fairly soon it will undoubtedly give a major boost to the (currently flagging) energy levels amongst the climate change negotiators from both developed as well as developing countries. Under this scenario there is likely to be a significant increase in activities to reduce greenhouse gases in the developed countries (at least in Europe, Canada and Japan) as well in the developing countries (e.g. CDM projects). Admittedly the absence of the United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, will mean that such activities would not be as significant as they might otherwise have been, nevertheless they will undoubtedly be significant.  This will also trigger negotiations on the next stage of Kyoto, which will have to include such questions as:
  (i) What should be the levels of greenhouse reductions for the second commitment period?
  (II) How should developing countries come on board?
  (III) How can the US and Australia be brought back on board? 
These will remain very difficult questions to answer, but with Kyoto in force they may be amenable to solution, assuming goodwill on the part of all major parties.
2. If Kyoto does not come into force: If Kyoto does not come into force, then it will indeed be very difficult to regain the lost momentum of the climate change negotiations, as the energy and political capital that was used in getting Kyoto agreed will be seen to have achieved nothing in the end. This will be particularly galling for the Europeans who have been the main supporters of Kyoto from the beginning and who have invested much political capital in getting it signed in the first place. Although the European Union is still likely to go ahead with its own targets and emissions trading schemes, they will no longer be doing it within a globally agreed treaty and thus will have much less significance. Under this scenario, it would really mean a tragic reassessment of the whole UNFCCC regime and perhaps a new beginning on how to shape the global agreement in future.

In spite of the uncertainty with regard to Kyoto as described above, it is very likely that the developing countries, which have not really played a significant part so far, will become more active in the future climate change regime, regardless which scenario actually unfolds. This will undoubtedly mean a greater emphasis on the issue of adaptation together with mitigation. Thus, the future beyond Kyoto can no longer be addressed purely in terms of mitigation, which Kyoto did, but it must include the issue of adaptation as well as mitigation.

Exactly how this will be achieved in the context of the climate change negotiations is difficult to predict but some outlines of the kinds of issues that will have to be addressed can be suggested below:

Future negotiations including adaptation

So far in the negotiations, the issue of adaptation has not had a single major role, unlike mitigation which had the Kyoto Protocol negotiated for it and appears in a number of different areas. One suggestion has been to consolidate all the different parts of the negotiations where adaptation appears into a single negotiating text or even a separate “Adaptation Protocol”- similar to Kyoto. Regardless of whether the texts are consolidated or negotiated separately the following are issues that will have to be dealt with:

1. Science of adaptation: As adaptation is both a relatively new subject and it requires a great deal of location-specific information, it will be necessary to enhance the scientific understanding of adaptation and what makes sense as actions. This will require action by the Subsidiary Body on Science and Technology Assessment (SBSTA).
2. Adaptation and development: Adaptation is integrally linked to issues of mainstream development and hence cannot, indeed it should not, be looked at in isolation from mainstream development. Thus, the role of adaptation to climate change and development will need to be better understood before effective adaptation actions can be pursued.
3. Capacity building and adaptation: A major part of adaptation is the notion of Adaptive Capacity, namely the ability of a country or community to effectively adapt to climate change. Enhancing adaptive capacity will be one of the key means by which developing countries will be able to deal with future climate change impacts.
4. Funding adaptation: Although, relatively small so far, the Marrakesh Funds will need to be replenished considerably in the near future to asset developing countries to undertake the necessary adaptations to climate change. However, the climate change funds need not be the only source for such financial support. New ways of making funding available (e.g. through insurance) may need to be found.
5. Mainstreaming adaptation: Dealing effectively with climate change cannot be done solely on stand-alone adaptation measures alone, but need to be done by the mainstream sectoral and national actors and policy-makers. This will require those actors to understand the potential impacts of climate change and then to be able to incorporate or “mainstream” the adaptations to climate change into their normal development actions and plans.



For the first ten years of the climate change negotiations, the issue of adaptation has taken a back seat to that of mitigation. That will no longer be possible in the future rounds of negotiations. Ways will have to be found to enable international, national and local responses, including policies, to address both the issue of adapting to climate change as well as mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases. It is very likely that by looking at adaptation and mitigation together as two sides of the same climate change response coin (rather than separate issues as they have been treated in the past) will yield advantages, synergies and win-win strategies.  q 

The author is the Director, Climate Change Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London, United Kingdom.  

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