This year’s climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland (COP 19) were a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the summit’s outcomes were dramatically out of step with the level of action needed to solve the climate change problem. A tempting metaphor for the talks was the national stadium in which they were held– one could go around in endless circles in search of the right location.
On the other hand, the Warsaw COP did achieve the incremental outcomes needed to move the process forward. Negotiators put in place a work plan for securing an international climate agreement at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. The COP also made progress on scaling up climate finance and addressing the difficult issue of loss and damage, a process for addressing climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to. These are small but important steps toward bringing countries out of their repetitive, circular discussions and closer to agreeing collectively on how to address global climate change.
Adapting to the impacts of climate change—like heat waves, increased floods, and natural disasters—is an enormous challenge. It’s also one that comes with an enormous price tag. Although it’s difficult to calculate the extent of the costs, the World Bank estimates that developing countries need $70 to $100 billion USD per year through 2050 to meet their current and future climate adaptation needs.
The Climate Policy Initiative, however, estimates that in 2011, only $4.4 billion USD in adaptation finance went to developing countries. This leaves a gap of anywhere from $65.6 to $95.6 billion USD per year between what developing countries need and what developed nations are giving.
One of the biggest successes from 2009’s COP 15 conference was securing funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Donor nations agreed to “provide new and additional resources […] approaching $30 billion for the period 2010–2012, with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation.” They also committed to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020.
But the agreement left a key question unresolved: how should funding be “balanced” between adaptation and mitigation? Should the funding balance be 50/50 between adaptation and mitigation or should it based on each country’s needs? Should funding include both private and public sector investment? These are some of the questions that negotiators will need to address during COP 19 in Warsaw.
But whatever they decide as being a “balanced commitment,” one thing is clear: finance for adaptation needs to increase in the coming years.
The amount of adaptation finance has increased in recent years, at least in part as a result of agreements reached at the U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. In the past year, Oxfam, WRI, Overseas Development Institute, and civil society networks in Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda and Zambia have been working together to figure out just how much adaptation finance has been flowing to these four countries and where it’s going. It’s a bit like trying to figure out the tangle of plumbing and pipes in an old house. There is money for climate change adaptation coming from different sources, flowing through different channels, and being used for different purposes.
Parties to the UNFCCC established the Adaptation Fund in 2008[^1] to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Fund has gradually evolved since then, and it’s about to embark on its newest development: a safeguard policy to ensure that its investments do not have unintended negative consequences for people or the environment.
The move represents potential progress in the effort to promote climate justice and adaptation. The Adaptation Fund holds a small but important share of global climate finance, distributing more than US$ 180 million to adaptation activities spanning 28 countries. An Environmental and Social Policy—which the Board recently released a draft of—can help ensure that that these funds do not support projects that generate unintended environmental or social impacts.
Communities across the world continue to experience weather-induced food shortages due to drought, floods, devastating wildfires, and other climate change impacts. This week, the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF)is meeting to discuss how the GCF will receive and disburse money through various financial inputs and instruments.
While working on tracking adaptation finance for our Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative project, we often get the question “What is adaptation finance?” or “What counts as adaptation finance?” To our embarrassment, we still don’t have a clear answer to either question, other than “Well… finance that funds efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change qualifies as adaptation finance.”
We decided to do some soul-searching on this subject. While it’s still too complicated to provide a cut-and-dry definition of adaptation finance, we identified three common traits surrounding the issue: Adaptation finance is context-specific, dynamic, and not just about finance.
However, some question whether these funds are going to the right places and meeting real needs. Is adaptation finance being directed towards the nations that need it the most? Is it being used to support projects that will allow people to adapt to climate change’s impacts?
The Question Is: Where Should Adaptation Finance Go?
The easy answer is that adaptation finance should go to activities that strengthen the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of countries most susceptible to climate change’s impacts. People in developing countries will likely be hit hardest by global warming.
What is the best way to protect vulnerable rural communities from the damaging impacts of climate change? Insurance could be an answer, but it raises a number of difficult questions.
To illustrate, the New York Times recently ran a story, “Report Says a Crop Subsidy Cap Could Save Millions.” The piece discusses a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that investigated the costs and distributive effects of the federal insurance program that protects farmers against crop failure and low market prices. This is a costly program for the federal government – farmers pay only 38 percent of the premiums, and the rest is covered by federal subsidies. Payouts are skewed toward the largest farms, which may receive very large payments because there is no subsidy cap. The cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2011 was $7.3 billion.