Institutionalsing Adaptation

Agus P Sari 

It may already be a cliché by now to say that developing countries will lose the most when climate change occurs, due to their ecological and geographical vulnerabilities, level of economic development, and their lack of resources in dealing with the impacts of climate change.  But, one aspect that is often not addressed properly in any discourse on climate impacts is the human and institutional aspect of vulnerability.

Indeed, too much attention so far has been paid on the mitigation side of the climate coin.  COP 8 in Delhi last year managed to increase the prominence of impacts, vulnerability, and the adaptation side of the coin.  But even so, much attention has still been devoted to the physical and socio-economic impacts.  In the debate on adaptation to these impacts, strong interests lie in the physical and technical measures and the costs.  Understandably, the debate on the Adaptation Fund—its amount and predictability—comes in the forefront of the debate.  COP 6 bis in Bonn (the extension of COP6 in The Hague in 2000, since it failed to reach any agreement), produced a series of contribution pledges from the industrialized countries amounting to approximately $600 millions for all funds related to climate change and not only for adaptation purposes. But, this falls short of the $1 billion per year appeal by the COP 6 Chair Jan Pronk in his proposed negotiating text.

It is also unfortunate that the issue of climate change impacts has been hijacked by oil-exporting countries, who believe that climate change responses will reduce the demand for oil.

The following article focuses on this institutional debate, hoping that COP 9 in Milan could solve this issue adequately.

The Institutional Aspect of Adaptation

It is not difficult to agree that even $1 billion per year entirely for adaptation purposes is far from adequate, given the costs that developing countries can potentially pay for climate change-related damages.  It is also not difficult to predict that developing countries themselves will have to bear most of the cost of adaptation, given the small amount of willingness among the industrialized countries to “compensate” for these damages, regardless of how inequitable this possible outcome really is.

Beyond money, we need to know how to adapt technically and institutionally—including the organizational and legal means—so that the money (if at all available) can be spent efficiently and reach the right targets.  So far, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol has been the main source of insight on the institutional aspect of adaptation.  While the negotiation on this has been compartmentalized in the negotiation on Articles 4.8 and 4.9 of the Convention and Article 3.14 of the Protocol, M.J. Mace of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) found that no single Article in the UNFCCC deals comprehensively with adaptation.  Still largely absent from the UNFCCC’s adaptation framework, is an institutionalized process for the prioritization of adaptation activities both among, and within, countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Also lacking, is an adequate and predictable stream of funding to address adaptation needs.  No funding is yet authorized for the implementation of project activities.

As a result of the COP negotiation process, especially for the least developed countries (LDCs), the main vehicle to strategize national resources is the National Action Plan for Adaptation (NAPA).  Under the auspices of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), some millions of dollars are available for these countries to formulate their adaptation strategies.

But so far, existing adaptation response developments such as NAPA are either formulated at the international or internationally-driven national levels.  This way, the approach to the problem inevitably tends to become state-oriented, with limited inputs and involvement from the civil society and, most importantly, from the potential victims.  This poses several problems.  First, this traditional management of internationally-driven action plan formulation will bring some conditionality from the donors, such as a condition to employ “international consultants” from the donor countries that can easily absorb half of the budget.  Second, in countries laden with corruption and lack of accountability, there is very little capacity to undergo adaptation exercises, achieve targets, and ensure the effective use of resources and funds.  In the end, only a fraction—a quarter, if we are lucky—of these “adaptation funds” go to developing countries and even less is used directly to increase these countries’ resilience to climate change.

If we observe closely, communities whose livelihoods depend largely on climate and nature have a long history of self-adaptation.  An example of how adaptation works in the ancient era could be witnessed through the farming practices along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt in the era of the Pharaohs.  The farmers skillfully utilized the cycle of floods of the Nile River and made use of the soil nutrition left after the floods by scheduling their farming cycle to follow the flood cycle.  At present, some farmers still survive the changing climate by adapting their farming practices, as well as the organization of the farming community.  Unfortunately, much of the changes are either too intense, too fast, or both, for them to adapt organically.

These adaptive practices and organizational capacities at the grassroots level could shed some light on how larger national and international institutional arrangements for adaptation to climate change should evolve, as they provide real and direct benefits to communities in terms of participatory adaptation strategies.

An Adaptation Protocol ?

The original proposal submitted by India as Chair of COP 8 contained a provision to negotiate an Adaptation Protocol.  This came about as a response to the current climate of the negotiation that had been biased towards mitigation, and a view that the Kyoto Protocol, while well-equipped for mitigation measures, is weak in terms of addressing adaptation.  I gave a speech at the Conference on Adaptation organized by Development Alternatives several days prior to COP 8 itself in New Delhi, where I suggested a more serious thinking towards institutionalizing adaptation through an Adaptation Protocol under the Convention.  In this article, I suggest we revisit this argument.

First, this provision was strongly opposed in the negotiation, among others by the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), with a good argument.  Some of the opinions were against an Adaptation Protocol. M.J. Mace of FIELD presented one example concerning the lengthy process for negotiating the Adaptation Protocol while the Convention has already provided sprinkled provisions for adaptation.  The key question is what would be contained in the Adaptation Protocol that is not already contained in the existing instruments?

My opinion has been further muddied by some variants in the discourse on “future actions”, “future commitments” — or other guises, essentially about the future of the climate regime “beyond 2012” — in favour of either abolishing the Kyoto Protocol, creating an entirely new regime that resembles everything but the Kyoto Protocol, or an “orchestra of treaties”.  In this arrangement, there are several risks to face.  An Adaptation Protocol can be seen as a treaty in place of the Kyoto Protocol, or at least that undermines it.  Furthermore, the risk that countries may pick and choose the treaties in which they want to participate may leave the Adaptation Protocol with only developing countries as signatories.  Considering the current unwillingness by the industrialized countries to pick up the tab of adaptation measures, this Adaptation Protocol may not be sufficiently funded, which would make it a toothless treaty.

All these debates show that there is a set of questions still underlying the institutional aspects of adaptation.  While the emerging prominence of adaptation in the climate regime is widely welcomed, the institutional matter is far from settled.  The leadership of the Indian government and Indian NGOs in pursuing adaptation should include more intense work on these institutional aspects.    q

The author is the Executive Director, Pelangi, an environmental think-tank based in Jakarta, Indonesia.


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