Update on Adaptation negotiations

Here’s a brief update on what’s happening in adaptation negotiations at the COP. The two major conflicts at present surround defining vulnerability and the inclusion of adaptation to the effects of climate action on dirty economies.

Parties from Latin America have pushed for a more expansive definition of vulnerability, making it less focused on the most vulnerable countries. This is creating conflict, as the pie would have to be spread more widely and worst affected countries would likely see their benefits from the system reduced.

Vulnerability is a reflection of two things. The first is the country’s exposure: its ecological and economic conditions that make it susceptible to climate change. More vulnerable countries’ territories may include expansive low-lying areas or desert areas, limited fresh water supplies, frequent natural disasters, etc. More vulnerable countries may also be more economically dependent on economic sectors directly vulnerable to climate effects, such as agriculture or fisheries.

The second determinant of vulnerability is how much capacity a country has to adapt. Capacity is a reflection of wealth, education, technology and institutional strength. The human consequences of climate change for poor countries with a relatively less educated population, less technology and weak social organisation will be worse. Essentially, the more ‘developed’ your country is, the better prepared you are to handle climate changes.

Countries that are very exposed to climate change are justified in wanting to be included in adaptation programmes. The reason why the inclusion of these Latin American countries is so disputed, however, is that their relative capacity to face climate changes is significantly greater than that of the most vulnerable countries. In essence, though they are quite exposed, they can help themselves without massive international assistance. This appears to be an issue that can be surmounted at this conference.

The second major adaptation battle is that Saudi Arabia, in particular, wants to be compensated in some way for ‘response measures’, i.e. the costs to its economy of the world transitioning to a sustainable economic model. In the past, ‘response measures’ were considered under the adaptation framework, then they were moved into mitigation discussions, then they were returned to adaptation negotiations at Copenhagen in a bad misstep. The notion is that Saudi Arabia’s economy is entirely built on oil and gas exports and these exports will be hampered by reduced demand as the world transitions to a less fossil fuels-intensive economic model in reaction to climate change.

Saudi Arabia should not be compensated because they cannot any longer just enrich themselves off a resource that is destroying the world’s atmosphere and have never moved to build a real economy (i.e. educate their population, produce for an internal market, develop manufacturing). Arguably, a wave of renewable energy could raise all boats in the gulf, whereas the present oil slick seems to lift only a few fabulously wealthy on the backs of their submerged and whipped population.

Saudi Arabia may just be trying to obstruct negotiations. There appears no likelihood they will get their way on this issue. The precedent of ‘response measures’ would be untenable, making almost all actions on climate change very difficult because any losers would need to be compensated. It is akin to demanding the government pay reparations to cigarette companies for banning their use in hospitals. Sometimes someone has to lose and the hope springs eternal that it will be those who are destroying our common good instead of those seeking to protect it.

So, there is where the conflicts are in adaptation negotiations. Both issues should not be major obstacles. I am going to a workshop tonight discussing how to manage climate financing, and will write in about it tomorrow if I think people will be interested!


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