Global General

Not every country has adapted to the notion of 'adaptation'

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-16 10:13
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COPENHAGEN: Contention has surrounded a few "crunch" issues at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, according to Connie Hedegaard, the president of the meeting.

Hedegaard says targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of money that developed countries should be sending in the form of aid to developing countries are the two biggest crunch issues.

But Hedegaard said there are also "deeper layers" of contention that go beyond politics and arouse serious concern among delegates and representatives from international and non-government organizations.

One of those "layers" is "adaptation", one of the biggest catchwords among those gathered inside the Bella Center, where the conference is taking place.

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According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the nations adopted in 1992 as an international environmental treaty, "adaptation to climate change is vital in order to reduce the impacts of climate change that are happening now and increase resilience to future impacts".

In the draft amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, the word "adaptation" is used 15 times - twice as much as the word "mitigation".

So much so that Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF's global climate initiative, said on Monday that "climate change adaptation mechanisms and measures and especially finance is an issue starved of attention, commitments and funds."

"With climate impacts already severely impacting those countries least able to cope with them, we have examples of wealthy countries who have made commitments on adaptation support and finance in the past but consistently failed to fulfill their promises," he said during a press conference.

To Wilson A. Songa, Kenya's agriculture secretary, the way the adaptation mechanism is spelled out in the final documents will mean a lot to people in his country and other poor countries in the developing world.

"I am most concerned about how much money from the climate change fund will go to programs for adaptation," he told China Daily.

At present, the proposed climate change fund is $10 billion. A World Bank report said last year $10 billion is too little to help the billion people who are surviving on less than $1 a day.

But the draft document tabled to set further objectives for the Kyoto Protocol lists three options, from 0.5, 2 to 8 percent of the proposed fund. Even if the highest percentage is adopted, the amount, $800 million, will be far too little to satisfy the needs of Kenya and other poor and developing countries, Songa said.

He fears that a lot of money will go to technology transfer, even though developing countries like Kenya may not need the technologies in the short term.

"Technologies can favor nations such as China and India," Songa said.

However, countries like Kenya are already facing increasing challenges as the global average temperature rises, he said.

His country needs funds to build new irrigation systems, develop a diversified range of drought-resistant crops, inexpensive fertilizers and certified seeds, not to mention building services and maintaining and strengthening infrastructures, he said.

Apart from agriculture, health problems are also increasing, Songa said. For instance, incidences of malaria are now occurring in highland regions in Kenya, where malaria was not a problem years ago.

Tourism is also likely to suffer because wildlife will be hit hard by global warming. Last season eight elephants died in one week in Kenya's famous Masai Mara national park. In other parks, rangers have seen losses among families of giraffes.

"The elderly in the herd obviously didn't survive the drought," Songa said. "When we lose the animals, we lose tourism industry as well."

Water management

While Songa sees enormous needs in his country, several non-government organizations expressed their dissatisfaction that draft climate change documents are not giving enough thought to water management.

As a result of climate change, some regions are having to endure more serious floods and severe storms, while other places are experiencing continual drought.

"The failure to recognize the role of water management in adapting to climate change has numerous and multifaceted repercussions for people's lives," said Karin Lexen, of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

"It means that national water suppliers will not have access to sanitation systems that are resilient to flooding or unexpected weather events. It means that farmers will not have adequate information or resources to ensure that they can cope with diminishing rainfall. It means that new pressures will be put on already strained relations between neighboring states who depend on shared water resources," she said.

People in developing countries are eagerly waiting to see what will be done to improve the adaptation mechanism and how much will be devoted to programs.

"While there are some limited offers for short-term adaptation funding on the table, there is little longer term vision or commitment," said Carstensen. "We need to ensure that Copenhagen does not become the venue where getting some initial pledged money for adaptation takes precedence over setting up a secure international framework for adaptation."

(China Daily 12/16/2009 page10)