Developing Countries and Climate Change Adaptation

The Commission on Climate Change and Development presented its findings in Washington, D.C. late last week. Chaired by Sweden’s international development minister, Gunilla Carlsson, the commission includes experts such as Mohamed El-Ashry, formerly head of the Global Environment Facility (GEF); Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and re-forestation activist; and Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The commission was formed to help “achieve sustainable development worldwide”, while assisting developing countries adapt to climate change and prepare for disasters. Sweden will take over the EU presidency in July and lead the EU delegation at the UNFCCC meeting later this year in Copenhagen. The Commission also presented its report to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

Gunilla Carlsson, Minister of International Development, Government of Sweden: Carlsson re-iterated that adaptation is “context-sensitive,” and depends on a countries’ adaptive capacity (people, skill sets), and measures (coastal sea walls, vaccines, etc).  “There are no simple guidelines,” because each solution needs to be “place-based.” Carlsson also sees adaptation as a “political issue” and argued that more financing will be required at an international level. Furthermore, she argued that development needs to be “climate-proofed” so that poor countries don’t fall farther behind while addressing climate change.

Kemal Dervis, former head of UNDP, and now Vice President, Brookings Institution: Dervis said finance ministers are all focused on the global economic crisis, so getting the green agenda on their radar will be difficult. However, he said smart adaptation doesn’t have to cost a lot: Bangladesh implemented a low-cost early warning system that prevented deaths from the recent cyclones. Dervis sees this an example of how a “society can become resilient,” and, while there may be few resources, there can be “tremendous benefits.”

Dervis also argued that countries have no “extreme solutions” left — borders can’t be closed against C02 emissions. On the positive side, he thought there could be a “technology revolution.”  

Mohamed El-Ashry, former head of GEF, and Senior Fellow, U.N. University: El-Ashry said global negotiations in preparation for Copenhagen are stuck on finance and the extent to which developing countries will make deep cuts in their C02 emissions (and create opportunities for adaptation). El-Ashry said there was a need to close the “trust gap,” between developing and developed countries. Developed countries have so far promised USD 18 billion for adaptation, but only delivered USD 1 billion. Even if a new agreement is reached in Copenhagen, a stop-gap measure will be needed as Copenhagen won’t take effect until 2013. 

El-Ashry also said that international organizations are ill-equipped to deal with these issues, and a local grants program distributing amounts up to USD 50 thousand would be more effective.

Saroj Kumar Jha, GEF: Jha, a manager at GEF, took a different tact, and said climate has always changed and local people have always adapted. Jha cited the case of a local Indian farmer he met a few years ago who had four different types of rice seeds, and would select one based on weather conditions. Jha said adaptation really has to happen at the local and national levels. However, Jha worried that: “Climate change has become so dynamic that our capacity to cope may fail.” Also, he wondered how information on the best ways to adapt can quickly get out to those millions of villages throughout developing countries.

Jha said there is inequality in terms of the effects of climate change: “”It shouldn’t be mitigation for the rich, and adaptation for the poor.” Jha also argued that countries should use and strengthen indigenous technologies and natural early warming systems. He cited how some local populations were alerted to the Tsunami that struck Asia a few years ago because of the odd behavior of ants, and other wildlife.

Jonathan Lash, WRI, made the case for extra adaptation funds from the U.S. Lash argued that the current Waxman-Markey bill making its way to a vote in Congress will provide only USD 1-2 billion per year in assistance to developing countries through funds from the auction of allowances. Lash urged U.S. organizations to lobby Congress for extra funds. Some USD 80 billion per year is estimated to be needed to help least developed countries adapt.

Read the full report

Also, check out a New York Times Dot Earth post on disaster “hot spots,” and a recent report “2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction,” on preparing against disasters precipitated by ecological damages.

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