Climate adaptation funds needed now to save costs later

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 14 December 2009 11:40 GMT

COPENHAGEN (AlertNet) Â? How urgent is it for developing nations to get the money they need to adapt to climate change?

Consider the case of Vietnam, where the government, with the help of donors, is in the process of spending $700 million on dykes for protection against flooding.

The problem, according to Ancha Srinivasan, a senior climate change specialist at the Asian Development Bank, is that the dykes being planned and built will be adequate to deal with the flooding problems Vietnam faces at the moment, but not those it is likely to face in the future.

"TheyÂ?re being designed with current conditions in mind, but the dyke design is not adequate for future impacts of climate change," said Srivinvasan, who is overseeing 17 adaptation projects that the bank is helping to finance in six nations in southeast Asia.

Why isnÂ?t Vietnam planning for the future? Largely because the exact scale of the problem in the future remains uncertain because modeling of climate change remains an inexact science at best. But also because building higher and more extensive defences costs more money -- money that Vietnam so far canÂ?t get from donors and is reluctant to spend or borrow, particularly when it thinks someone else should pay to deal with a problem it didnÂ?t create.

ThatÂ?s where a global adaptation fund might do some real good, Srivinvasan says. As part of negotiations in Copenhagen this week aimed at creating a new international pact to curb climate change, governments of richer countries that produce more climate-changing gases are expected to pledge billions of dollars to assist poorer countries most affected by climate change.

Yvo de Boer, the United NationsÂ? climate chief, has asked for $10 billion to start the fund in 2010, with an eventual scale-up to $100 billion or more a year by 2030. Europe has already promised 7.3 billion euros.

Designing infrastructure projects like VietnamÂ?s dykes to deal with expected future impacts of climate change generally adds an additional 6 to 22 percent to the cost, Srivinvasan said, as long as the scale-up is done from the initial planning stage.

If the adaptation fund could cover the additional costs, he said more vulnerable nations could be persuaded to build the right kind of defenses now. That could produce huge savings in the future. Retrofitting projects like VietnamÂ?s dykes later could cost three to five times as much as their current cost, he said.

The key, he said, is getting the money to the nations that need it as quickly as possible, before more inadequate climate change defences are built.

"Most of these economies (in southeast Asia) are really moving very fast," Srivinvasan said. "If the right decisions arenÂ?t made now, the investment will go to waste."

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