Friday, October 16, 2009

Can the world meet the high cost of adaptation?

A few weeks ago, I posted what are more or less the three themes of Maribo. The third theme:

Adapting to climate change is far more difficult and far more expensive than most people and most supposed experts assume. This comes from spending too much time and effort estimating the costs of mitigation here in the developed world, and too little looking the efficacy of local development and especially international development projects.

The only thing more challenging than agreeing on emissions policy and acceptable limits of warming will be agreeing on how and how much to fund adaptation. The financial support for adaptation in the developing world may be as big an obstacle block to a deal in Copenhagen as the emissions targets. From the NY Times:

Many developing countries have made it clear that they will not sign a treaty unless they get money to help them adapt to a warmer planet. Acknowledging that a new treaty needs unanimity for success, industrialized nations like the United States and those in Europe have agreed in principle to make such payments; they have already been written into the agreed-upon structure of the treaty, to be signed in Copenhagen in December.

We're not terrible good at funding or implementing adaptation in the developed world, beyond measures that protect society from near-term threats. And thus far we've been reluctant to fund adaptation in the developing world, where the impacts of climate change are expected to be greater and the ecological and societal resilience is generally lower. Again from the NY Times:

Perhaps even more troublesome, the United Nations Adaptation Fund, which officially began operating in 2008 to help poor countries finance projects to blunt the effects of global warming, remains an empty shell, largely because rich nations have failed to come through with the donations they promised. The fund now holds about $18 million, a tiny fraction of what it was supposed to have, according to fund officials.

Funding, of course, is only one first step. Using the money wisely, and avoiding the top-down style that often limits the effectiveness of international aid, is another story entirely. More on that in the coming months.

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