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Multinational companies (MNCs) typically have operations and supply chains in many parts of the world. The way they respond to climate change, therefore, can affect many populations, including poor communities in developing countries, where many people are especially vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts. MNCs sometimes find themselves in tension with local groups and the environment, but they can also play an important role in making these communities more climate-resilient.

Here are three ways that MNCs can contribute to climate change adaptation in developing countries:

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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.

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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.

So who can help fill this gap?

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The unexpected rise in food prices in 2008 had a complex causality, with climate variability acting as an important trigger. This was followed by the financial meltdown in 2009 and high food prices again in 2011-12. These complex crises,

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Developed countries committed to provide US$ 30 billion in new and additional climate finance between 2010 and 2012 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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The issue of "loss and damage" will be a critical component of the discussions at COP 19 in Warsaw. These negotiations could be contentious and emotional—and not surprisingly, given what is at stake. Losses and damages under scenarios well below four degrees of warming could, over time, include the submergence of mega-cities, the collapse of major ecosystems, and the loss of entire island nations. But the loss and damage (L&D) negotiations need to succeed for COP 19 to succeed—and for the global community to get on track to achieve an ambitious, effective, and equitable climate change agreement in 2015.

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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.

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The amount of international climate finance approved to help developing countries address the impacts of climate change increased considerably between 2008 and 2012.

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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.

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A year after its inaugural meeting, the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) left its fifth meeting in Paris earlier this month with a collective sense of urgency. The GCF is expected to become the main vehicle for disbursing climate finance to developing nations, so the decisions made at this most recent meeting significantly impact the future of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Encouragingly, Board members stepped up to the important task before them, making progress across several key issues. Their decisions made it clear: The GCF’s inception phase (referred to officially as "the interim period") is over—the focus now is on funding it and launching its operations.

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While leaders in Washington, D.C. grapple with a potential national economic crisis, in Florida, mayors and citizens are taking action—on climate change and sea-level rise, that is. Florida Atlantic University (FAU) will host its second annual Sea Level Rise Summit this week, bringing together national and international experts to discuss the impacts of sea-level rise and storm surge on local and national economies.

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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 aren’t the only ones who struggle to define the very issue on which we work. Even some of the definitions that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and multilateral development banks are developing do not provide a complete answer to the question of what types of investment are considered to be 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.

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“The time to act is now… We cannot afford to do nothing.”

This was the message of Mayor Will Sessoms from Virginia Beach, VA, delivered last Friday at a conference on "Adaptive Planning for Flooding and Coastal Change." Like so many cities along the Atlantic coast, Virginia Beach is at the frontlines of climate change, experiencing impacts like sea-level rise and recurrent coastal flooding. But as we learned at the event, the city and its surrounding communities are emerging as leaders in engaging in initiatives to address these issues.

“We are not as well prepared as we need to be to address the full scope of projected realities in the year 2100” Mayor Sessoms stated, “and we can, and must, make continued improvements.” His message was echoed by a group of bipartisan mayors and state delegates, city planners, legal experts, and university scientists. They stressed that while state and federal governments often struggle to move beyond the political debate of whether manmade climate change is happening, residents of the Tidewater area of Virginia are focused on developing a robust response to rising seas and recurrent coastal flooding.

Mayor Sessoms’ sentiments paralleled the earlier statements of Democratic Mayor Paul Fraim from Norfolk, VA that "[t]his is one of the greatest threats of our lifetime,” and “a threat that we can no longer afford to ignore."

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As I prepare to take part in an event on hurricanes and extreme weather in Miami, Florida later today, it’s clear just how much climate change threatens the state’s local communities. Florida is the most vulnerable U.S. state to sea-level rise, with seas projected to rise along the state’s coast by as much as 2 feet by 2060--threatening valuable infrastructure, homes, and communities. Even Superstorm Sandy--which had the greatest impacts in New York and New Jersey--caused significant damages along Florida’s east coast while centered miles offshore. Rising seas contributed to Sandy’s storm surge and tidal surges, causing flooding throughout Miami-Dade County and sweeping away portions of State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

But as overly concerned as I am of the climate change impacts Florida faces, I’m also encouraged. Florida has something that few other states have: A bipartisan collaboration to address global warming’s disastrous impacts.

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