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Adaptation is the climate elephant in the negotiation room

by Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid | @mohadow | Christian Aid - UK
Thursday, 11 June 2015 11:30 GMT

A boy reacts after catching a fish in a dried-up pond near the banks of the Ganges river Allahabad, India, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If cutting emissions trumps support for vulnerable countries in dealing with climate change, things will end badly for everyone

This week the G7 agreed to decarbonise the global economy by the end of the century. But as nations meet in Bonn to craft a global climate agreement to be signed in Paris later this year it is becoming increasingly clear that cuts to emissions is trumping support for vulnerable countries.  If it’s allowed to continue this will end up badly for everyone.

We are already seeing the impacts of climate change as it affects economies, crops, jobs and livelihoods as well as oceans, water supplies and nature. So it’s vital that we reframe the Paris agreement as one which enables vulnerable countries to defend themselves, otherwise why will they sign it?  The theme of the deal needs to be broadened to include building climate resilience.

Yet in the UN talks, climate protection, known by the name adaptation, is constantly sidelined. A focus on pollution cuts persists, with not enough to show for this monopolisation of the discussions.  Moreover, even if we are to succeed on the required cuts (which we must do to fend off the worst case scenario ), the already-locked in warming means an emissions-only deal in Paris will be inadequate in protecting those communities and countries that need it most.

With greater adaptation developing nations would be more willing to agree to ambitious emissions cuts themselves and finance will help them pay for renewable energy systems which will enable an even faster transition to a low carbon world. In contrast without adaptation and finance richer nations risk a deadlocked two weeks in Paris.

Clearly we need rapid emissions cuts but that won’t be achieved by ignoring the adaption needs of the poor.  By addressing both, progress moves more quickly for each, resulting in a win-win for everyone. The Paris agreement needs to reflect these twin objectives and recognise the valuable and complementary role that adaptation plays in advancing climate action, and to rebalance the process between adaptation and mitigation.

All countries must demonstrate their support for an effective resilience focused climate regime and universally address climate risk against a range of temperature scenarios for all countries. No one is exempt. All countries, communities, businesses and institutions are subject to climate impacts Building climate resilience must be central to the Paris agreement.

Developed countries must be responsive to the needs of poor nations which don’t have the resources to deal with the impacts of climate change they are experiencing now. They need to commit to deliver a comprehensive agreement covering all the key building blocks of a successful deal; emissions reductions, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building. If one of these bricks is missing, the agreement will be structurally unsound. The developed nations must change their highly biased course from an emissions-only focused outcome towards a broader, balanced and comprehensive agreement.

Developing countries on the other hand must prepare national contributions including both climate pollution controls and adaptation actions, and outlining what they require in terms of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

Paris presents a critical opportunity for the world. Paris must be deliver a new agreement that sets the world towards a safe and resilient future for all. Failing to do so risks a gridlocked Paris summit and an outcome that is unstable and too weak to protect the poor first and ultimately the rest of the world.