Policy Watch: why developing countries are calling for science-based adaptation goals

Women carry containers after filling them with water at an abandoned stone quarry in Badama village in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh May 4, 2022. REUTERS/Ritesh Shukla

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June 24 – Political will was the missing ingredient at the climate meeting in Bonn earlier in June, which was supposed to lay the groundwork for progress at COP27, the upcoming global climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. But it ended with little tangible progress, not only on reducing emissions, but also on helping vulnerable countries cope with the impacts of climate change. Cries of betrayal were heard.

Climate change makes extreme events more likely – from flash floods in Germany last year to unusually early and intense heat waves that hit India and Pakistan this spring. Even if the average warming could be limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, extreme events will continue to occur and the world must prepare for them.

Developing countries want financial support for both adaptation and the consequences of climate change to which they cannot adapt – the so-called ‘loss and damage’. The less progress there is in mitigation, the more adaptation is needed and therefore the greater the loss and damage.

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It’s a political hot potato. Rich countries fear that awarding compensation amounts to an admission of legal liability that will open the floodgates to litigation. For vulnerable nations, it is a question of solidarity.

They pushed hard at COP26 for a dedicated funding facility but did not get it. Instead, they secured the Glasgow Dialogue, aimed at examining how loss and damage could be funded. Seven months later, they could not put the financing of loss and damage on the official agenda in Bonn. Climate Action Network tweeted that “rich countries have no moral right to speak of urgency when blocking progress. (The) EU, Norway, Switzerland, supported by the US, are completely blocking how the Loss and Damage Financing Mechanism will be established.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 2, 2021. Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS

There is a huge funding gap for both loss and damage and adaptation. Various analyzes have estimated the bill for the former at between 400 and 580 billion dollars by 2030. Last year, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that the costs of adaptation could be between 140 and $300 billion a year. by 2030, and up to $500 billion a year by 2050. And that’s just for developing countries. But as the pandemic has demonstrated, nations can mobilize funds whenever they want. In 2020, $16.7 trillion in COVID-19 recovery funding was deployed globally, but less than 12% was spent on adaptation measures.

While developed countries have still not delivered on their pledge to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries, the lion’s share of what has been provided has gone to mitigation, not adaptation. This was recognized at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, where governments were urged to double their collective funding for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025. This means reaching 40 billion dollars by 2025.

“Funding should come in the form of grants, not loans, because countries shouldn’t go into debt to protect themselves from excess emissions from rich countries,” Azara Sanogo, climate justice chief, told reporters. Oxfam for West Africa. She wants developed countries to come to COP27 with a clear delivery plan.

Even where there is funding, it is difficult to access it. Seyni Nafo, spokesperson for the African Group of Climate Change Negotiators and coordinator of the African Adaptation Initiative, said the plan aims to identify and address gaps in scientific, reporting and financial capacity that are hampering institutions and civil society groups.

Speaking at a side event at the summit, Preety Bhandari, senior adviser on global climate finance at the World Resources Institute, said public finance should play the leading role (which the private sector would learn from). Options include IMF Special Drawing Rights and a new Resilience and Sustainability Trust Fund designed to help vulnerable nations build resilience to external shocks; redirection of fossil fuel subsidies; debt cancellations or exchanges. Bonds and insurance instruments are also under discussion. “The toolkit is there, it’s about starting with the political will, and then the form will follow,” Bhandari said.

A man crosses a flooded bridge, caused by heavy rain, in kwaNdengezi near Durban, South Africa, May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

The global goal on adaptation is a key part of the Paris Agreement, but many of the building blocks remain to be defined. Just as a rigorous scientific process established a goal of limiting average warming to 1.5 degrees, the same effort must be directed towards adaptation, says Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Center for Climate Change and Development at AEFUNAI University in Nigeria. He said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a role to play in helping to develop metrics to assess levels of vulnerability and the costs of adaptation.

By “unleashing the power of science, we can achieve something that can help galvanize action.” But Okereke warned that there is no one size fits all and that developing countries “must be present” when key decisions are made.

Okereke is part of a group of climate experts and think tanks that together form the Alliance for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025). The group also calls for the acceleration of national adaptation plans, increased financial flows, in particular to the most vulnerable countries, and the financing of loss and damage. The Paris Agreement called for all countries to develop national adaptation plans – but only 36 have been submitted, despite 112 nations having policies geared towards adaptation.

There are many opportunities between now and COP27 for world leaders to unlock these financial flows. The question is whether they can lift their heads from the immediate crises of the war in Ukraine and the ensuing global food shortages to muster the political will that is essential to restore confidence.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and non-partisanship by principles of trust. Sustainable Business Review, part of Reuters Professional, is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Angeli Mehta

Angeli Mehta is a science writer with a special interest in environment and sustainability. Previously, she produced programs for BBC Current Affairs and holds a research doctorate. @AngeliMehta

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