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Policy Watch: Why developing countries are calling for science based targets for adaptation

By Angeli Mehta

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

Climate change is making extreme events more likely – from the flash flooding in Germany last year to the unusually early and intense heatwaves experienced in India and Pakistan this spring. Even if average warming could be limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, extreme events will still occur, and the world needs to prepare for them.

Developing countries want financial support both for adaptation and the consequences of climate change that they can’t adapt to – so-called “loss and damage”. The less progress on mitigation, the more adaptation is required and in turn the greater the loss and damage.

It is a political hot potato. Wealthy countries fear that providing compensation amounts to an admission of legal liability that will open the floodgates to litigation. For vulnerable nations, it is an issue of solidarity.


They pushed hard at COP26 for a dedicated finance facility but didn’t get it. Instead, they got the Glasgow Dialogue, aimed at examining how loss and damage could be financed. Seven months on, and they couldn’t get loss and damage financing onto the formal agenda in Bonn. Climate Action Network tweeted that, “rich countries don’t have a moral right to talk about urgency when they’re blocking progress. (The) EU, Norway, Switzerland supported by the U.S. are completely blocking how the loss and damage finance facility will be established.”

There is a huge funding gap for both loss and damage and adaptation. Various analyses have put the bill for the former at anywhere between $400 billion and $580 billion by 2030. Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that the costs of adaptation could be at the higher end of $140-$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 demonstrated, nations can mobilise funds when they want to. In 2020, $16.7 trillion of funding for COVID-19 recovery was deployed across the globe but less than 12% went on adaptation measures.

While developed countries still haven’t fulfilled their pledge to provide $100 billion a year of climate finance to developing nations, the lion’s share of what has been delivered has gone on mitigation, not adaptation. This was recognised at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, where governments were urged to double their collective provision of adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025. This means getting to $40 billion by 2025.

“Finance must be provided in terms of grants, not loans, because countries should not get into debt to protect themselves from the excess emissions from rich countries,” Azara Sanogo, Oxfam’s climate justice lead for West Africa, told journalists. She wants to see developed nations come to COP27 with a clear delivery plan.


Even where there is funding it is difficult to access. Seyni Nafo, spokesperson for the African Group of negotiators on climate change, and coordinator of the African Adaptation Initiative, said the plan was working to identify and close the gaps in scientific, reporting and financial capacities that dog institutions and civil society groups.

Speaking at a side-event at the summit, Preety Bhandari, a senior advisor on global climate finance at the World Resources Institute, said public finance had to take the leading role (from which the private sector would take its cue). Options include IMF Special Drawing Rights and a new Resilience and Sustainability Trust designed to help vulnerable nations build resilience to external shocks; redirecting of fossil fuel subsidies; debt cancellations or swaps. Bonds and insurance instruments are also being discussed. “The toolbox is there, it is a question of getting off the ground with the political will, and then, the form will follow,” said Bhandari.

The Global Goal on Adaptation is a key component of the Paris Agreement, but much of the basics remain to be worked out. Just as a rigorous scientific process went into establishing a goal of limiting average warming to 1.5 degrees, the same effort needs to be directed at adaptation says Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development at AEFUNAI University in Nigeria. He said there is a role for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to help develop the metrics to assess levels of vulnerability, and the costs of adaptation.

By “unleashing the power of science, we can get something that can help to galvanise action.” But Okereke cautioned that one size doesn’t fit all and that developing countries “must be in the room” when key decisions are made.


Okereke is one of a group of climate experts and think-tanks who together make up the Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025). The group is also calling for the fast-tracking of national adaptation plans, the scale up of financial flows, especially to the most vulnerable countries, and finance for loss and damage. The Paris Agreement mandated all countries to develop national adaptation plans – yet just 36 have been submitted, although 112 nations have some policies directed towards adaptation.

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

(Culled from Reuters)

Angeli Mehta is a science writer with a particular interest in the environment and sustainability. Previously, she produced programmes for BBC Current Affairs and has a research PHD. Twitter: @AngeliMehta


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