Thursday, October 21, 2010

Struggling to adjust

A few snips from an interesting piece by Tan Cropsey in China Dialogue: The climate is changing and human beings will need to change with it. People will have to adapt to floods, droughts, disease, increasingly severe weather events and disrupted water and food supplies. But some of those facing these threats have limited capacity to respond. International finance to help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change is therefore hugely important.

But who accesses these funds and how they access them are already hotly contested issues. At the heart of this debate are differing views over the status of adaptation. Should it be considered aid or reparations for past wrongs? More prosaically, can adaptation actually work, or will it fall prey to the types of problems that have hindered development aid and international attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions?

…The key point here is that adaptation finance is not aid. Existing processes were designed to provide grants and loans from developed nations. Sven Harmeling, an expert on climate change adaptation at German NGO Germanwatch, notes that “developing countries are entitled to receive adaptation funds because of the harm done by (developed country) greenhouse-gas emissions.” As such they have a moral case that they should have a say over how money is provided and spent. Funding for adaptation is not granted but owed.

…. Improving the resilience of the country’s infrastructure in the face of climate threats includes everything from the construction of new sea-walls in order to keep out rising seas to improving the design of the airport to better cope with huge storms and facilitate subsequent relief efforts.

….It makes sense that time is spent putting in place structures and institutions to distribute money and agree a fair definition of who should get first access. This may mean that not all of the fast-start finance pledged for adaptation will be spent by 2012. But it is surely better to have positive examples to learn from than to rush blindly to spend set quantities of money ahead of artificial deadlines. As the climate changes, adaptation is only going to become more important. It is vital that mistakes are minimised at the start of a process that may be centuries long.

Rain at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, shot by Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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