Adaptation will fail without emissions cuts, funding insufficient - UN climate chief

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 11:21 GMT

A woman holding an umbrella walks on flooded streets during heavy rainfall in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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If emissions don't fall fast enough, climate adaptation will become "virtually impossible”, warns the U.N. climate chief

KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The funds available to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change are “pathetically insufficient”, and adaptation efforts risk failing altogether if countries that produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions don’t agree to “very rapid” cuts, the United Nations’ climate chief warned on Wednesday.

Global emissions, which are still growing, need to peak within the next 10 years, with the world rapidly moving to become “carbon neutral” in the second half of the century, said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The alternative is that “the costs of adaptation will exponentially rise to the point where adaptation is not only extremely difficult but virtually impossible,” she said at the close of a week-long conference in Nepal on financing community-based climate adaptation.

The price of that failure could be a surge in poverty, hunger, migration and extreme weather, which would hit those least equipped to cope hardest, experts said.

“It is absolutely urgent we mitigate (climate-changing emissions) rapidly at the same time (as) we invest in adaptation or we are entering a world of much more instability,” warned Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

And it is not just the world’s poorest who will pay the price, as British families affected by flooding this year have discovered, noted Camilla Toulmin, director of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

During early spring floods, “we saw the limits of government support” for those hit by climate change impacts, she said. “I hope this direct personal experience stays in people’s minds as our government gets stuck into the negotiations” towards a 2015 global agreement to curb climate change, she added.


The gathering in Nepal, which ended Wednesday, produced a Kathmandu Declaration on climate finance for community-based adaptation. It called for half of the money raised to tackle climate change to be spent on adaptation, and half of that in turn to go to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

The document, negotiated by many of the 420 participants from 62 countries at the conference, also called for better access to information for communities on how adaptation funding is used, as well as transparency. It urged donors to considering pooling funds to avoid duplication of projects and to ease access to climate finance.

It also emphasised the need for long-term thinking and planning in association with communities to avoid “maladaptation,” or projects that don’t work effectively in the long term. And it called for adaptation efforts to be carried out “in accordance with the needs and wishes of local communities”, particularly women and others who may not have a voice in decision making.

Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, a senior fellow at IIED and the chief organiser of the conference, urged participants to incorporate the declaration’s aims into their work and “do something with it”. That led to pledges to have the declaration translated into local languages in India and the Pacific, for instance, and brought before the Green Climate Fund, which is due to start operating this year.

“Our culture, our land and our oceans are too valuable to lose,” noted Shirley Laban Tokon of Vanuatu, vowing to translate the document for policy makers and communities back home.


Leela Mani Poudyal, the chief secretary of Nepal, said the recent deaths of 16 Sherpa guides on Mt. Everest, in Nepal’s Himalayan region, were one indication of the “heavy” price to come for not doing enough to address climate change.

From worsening landslide risks to problems with food and water security, “the stakes are very high,” he said. And he warned that, in parts of the world with high emissions, “those of you enjoying luxury are endangering the lives of the poorest of the poor”.

He called for simplifying the often tortuous process of accessing international funds for climate change action, noting that the amounts available now are “barely sufficient”.

Figueres also urged that adaptation funding already in the pipeline should be spent “quickly, transparently and effectively” in order to show donors their spending gets results, and to lay the groundwork for much larger contributions.

Major international climate finance vehicles, such as the new Green Climate Fund, “cannot do bigger or better without learning from the experience of the existing funds”, she said.

Prakash Man Singh, Nepal’s deputy prime minister, called for equally quick and transparent progress at the U.N. climate talks, which are tasked with delivering a new global climate change agreement at the end of 2015.

The world’s poor, including those in Nepal, already face growing problems from climate change “and they don’t have time to wait for the outcome of U.N. negotiations”, he warned.

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