This article is written by Lisa Murken.
Adaptation has long been dwarfed by the big challenge of mitigation. Since the beginning of the climate negotiations, countries have emphasised their preference for mitigation action in order to avert the most dire climate change consequences. Politicians avoided talking about adaptation, in order to not give the impression of surrendering to an inevitable fate of disastrous climate change. As understandable as this narrative may be, over the past years it became increasingly clear that this is no longer supportable. Climate change impacts are no dismal future scenario anymore: unfortunately in many countries climate change is already a reality.
This realisation was finally acknowledged in the Paris Agreement, where it states in Article 9(4) that with regard to climate finance, a balance between mitigation and adaptation should be aimed for. At COP15 in Copenhagen, the developed country parties of the Kyoto protocol had pledged to provide 100 billion US$ for climate finance in developing countries from 2020 onwards. This commitment was reiterated in the Paris Agreement and widely discussed at COP22. UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2016 estimates that annually between 140 and 300 billion US$ will be needed for adaptation measures globally by 2030 and up to 500 billion US$ by 2050. In this light, the current debate seems almost absurd, as it comes nowhere close to those needs: Developing countries and NGOs put a lot of effort into communicating that they understand the Paris Agreement as calling for an equal share of climate finance between adaptation and mitigation, meaning that 50 out of the 100 billion US$ from 2020 onwards should be dedicated to adaptation measures in developing countries. They refer to the word “balance” of said Article 9, but the developed countries have avoided specifying this issue. The reality today is far from it, with only about 10 % of climate finance being dedicated to adaptation each year.
The imbalance between mitigation and adaptation was also mentioned during one of the most powerful moments at COP22, as the conference already winded down: the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, invited then president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, to come visit the Fiji islands and face the reality of climate change. He did not plead or show his anger, instead he retained his dignity as the head of a sovereign state – which nonetheless felt the need to ask one of the now most powerful men in the world to acknowledge the harm his country (amongst others) inflicts on the earth. This scene – while of course unique in its dimension – highlights the obscenely unfair distribution of power in the climate negotiations, which appears especially disastrous with regard to adaptation.
The developing countries repeatedly remind the developed world that they need more finance for adaptation measures. Bainimarama in his speech recalled that sea level rise is threatening Fiji, urging the Parties to take concertive action now. A multilateral initiative providing financing for Pacific countries was launched in August 2016, with the aim to build capacity for adaptation in the Pacific Island States. Bainimarama highlighted they were doing as much as they could with their limited resources, but now concrete steps should be taken to fairly allocate the 100 billion US$ a year in climate finance. He criticised the financing modalities currently adopted by many multilateral organisations: they often assess projects in terms of their riskiness, without adequately looking at the vulnerability and development needs of a population. This can lead to money being allocated not to the most vulnerable, but to those where investments promise to be the most stable.
Yet the answer of developed countries – led by Australia and the UK – to such calls for increased adaptation finance, the publication of a Roadmap on the 100 billion US$ objective in the run-up to COP22, aims to allocate only 20 % of the 100 billion to adaptation. The Roadmap is based on an OECD technical paper and has been heavily criticised for its lack of acknowledging developed countries’ adaptation needs. The plan falls short of developing countries’ demands and also the estimates of the UN themselves, and was therefore blocked from becoming part of the Marrakech Action Proclamation by developing countries.
Next to the volume of adaptation finance, another contentious issue is the mechanism delivering it. A favourite instrument of many developing countries is the Adaptation Fund, which was established under the Kyoto Protocol. Its future was one of the main agenda items in Marrakech. During COP21 it had already been recommended to have the Adaptation Fund continue its work under the Paris Agreement. In the final hours of COP22 – after many delays and heated conversations – the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Paris Agreement (CMA1) finally decided that the fund should serve the Paris Agreement. Support came from many developing countries and NGOs, and increasingly also from developed countries. The task for the next two years is to work out the exact governance, institutional arrangements, safeguards and operating modalities for the Adaptation Fund, a process set to happen under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA). Decisions on those issues will then be taken at COP24 in 2018.
But why did this first step take so long, where does this controversy around the Adaptation Fund come from? The answer partly lies in the different conceptions of what the fund should primarily deliver. Developing countries value the fund, because it enables concrete and localised adaptation projects and works with a Direct Access modality. This modality makes it possible for developing countries to directly access financing for adaptation projects through accredited national implementing entities – without taking a detour over country governments having to apply on behalf of their implementing entities.
Critics maintain that the Adaptation Fund is the least effective of climate financing funds. However, an independent evaluation in 2015 showed the fund to be effective, efficient and relevant. Further it can be argued that as the fund mainly finances small projects, the outcome might be skewed. More generally it is also questionable if the true value of climate finance is always measurable in monetary terms. Top-down finance is often not the best solution, with its bottom-up approach in contrast, the Adaptation Fund appeals to proponents of such approaches.
Meanwhile, the developing countries fulfilled their share and proved their serious commitment to climate action at COP22. In an impressive move the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 48 developing countries, announced towards the end of COP22, that it would go 100 % renewables as early as possible. The declaration was welcomed by the climate community as sending a strong signal of action. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at London’s International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), in a statement called it a historic moment, which “paved the way to a much safer, healthier and prosperous world”. This certainly increases the pressure on developed countries now, to equally step forward and announce ambitious action. It also importantly breaks with an old accusation often advanced towards developing countries, namely that they would rely on former Annex I Parties to deliver climate action, while insisting on their right to develop first, referring to their minor responsibility for climate change.
As COP22 has not lived up to the high hopes with regard to considerably advancing adaptation finance, the next years are set to bring interesting and important discussions on this vital topic. For now, the Adaptation Fund is again replenished thanks to contributions pledged by Sweden, Italy, Germany and the Belgium regions of Flanders and Wallonia. They promised a total of 81 billion US$, which will ensure the functioning of the fund for another year. But singular national donations can surely not be the answer to the developing world’s (and increasingly also the developed world’s) growing adaptation needs. With a new market mechanism under the Paris Agreement to feed the Adaptation Fund not even close to being designed yet, a lot of work remains – both regarding priorities on mitigation and adaptation as well as on climate finance in general.
About the author: Lisa Murken is a Master student in Environment and Development at LSE. She is active in CliMates’ « Youth on the Move » project and very passionate about issues of climate vulnerability and climate justice.