Politics of Poverty

Will the Green Climate Fund finally stop short-changing climate adaptation?

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Ricardina Sune Llasa holds a thermometer used at a weather station in the Peruvian highlands. Oxfam America has been supporting rural indigenous people in the mountainous region of Espinar, Peru to become more resilient in the face of rainfall shortages, extreme cold, and other life-threatening consequences of climate change. From 2009-2012, Oxfam’s local partners worked with farmers in 22 communities to pilot reservoirs to conserve water, pressure-powered sprinkler irrigation systems, and hardier grasses for animals. The project also trained farmers to monitor weather data and to respond to climate-related emergencies. Photo: Percy Ramírez / Oxfam America

What will come of the GFC Board’s decision to “aim for 50:50 balance between mitigation and adaptation over time”?

Annaka Peterson Carvalho is the Senior Program Officer of the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, led by World Resources Institute, Overseas Development Institute, and Oxfam.

I’m a relative new comer to international climate negotiation processes. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw last November was my first COP.

Until this past year, my engagement on climate change issues has been primarily from the perspective of its impacts at the community and country levels—not just the future impacts of climate change some 30 years from now, but the impacts of weather variability and increasingly intense disasters on poor men and women today.

But one does not have to know much about high-level international delegations to realize that climate change is already affecting people’s lives. Whether talking about super storm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda or the millions of men and women whose crops are threatened by late rains each season, one doesn’t have to look far. It’s with this reality in mind that Oxfam has been talking about the importance of investing not only in mitigation, but also in climate change adaptation since 2007.

Last month I saw some of our yakking finally paying off.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) made a decision at the 6th meeting of the Board last month in Bali to “aim for 50:50 balance between mitigation and adaptation over time.” The Green Climate Fund is being set up as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to mobilize financing to help developing countries. It is meant to be the primary channel for delivering the $100 billion annual commitment made by developed countries in 2009.

Adaptation usually gets short-changed

Oxfam’s analysis of Fast Start Finance (FSF), the $30 billion commitment for 2010-2012 made by developed countries in Copenhagen to help poor countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, found that only 21% went to adaptation. If one examines the broader universe of investments in climate-related activities by both the private sector and public sector (as the Climate Policy Initiative does annually), only 6% flowed towards adaptation-related activities last year. Yet estimates place the cost of climate change adaptation in developing countries at more than $100 billion a year – far more than the $6.3 billion for adaptation spent during Fast Start Finance. Plus, there is growing evidence that suggests the costs of adaptation have been grossly underestimated.

Had there been a similar commitment towards a 50:50 balance in the $30 billion FSF commitment, as there was by the Green Climate Fund last month, an additional $9 billion would have been spent on adaptation over the last three years. That would have been more than enough to cover the costs of implementing the National Adaptation Programmes of Action of least developed countries. These plans were prepared to address countries’ immediate needs, costs of which totaled $2 billion for 42 countries that had competed them by 2009, and which have largely remained unfunded unfortunately.

Are intentions to balance adaption and mitigation funding enough?

There is certainly room for a stronger mandate to balance global climate change resources between adaptation and mitigation. The cynic in my observes:

  • “Aim for 50:50” is relatively weak language since there’s nothing binding the commitment;
  • “Over time” is very ambiguous, leaving me wondering what time period they are using and what will they do during periods of imbalance; and
  • The figures will be calculated using grant equivalents, so the total amount spent on mitigation will likely far exceed that of adaptation. Adaptation activities will depend more heavily on grants than mitigation activities, for which it may be easier to use concessional loans and attract private investment.

However, I also can’t help but think this is a huge step in the right direction. The price tag of Typhoon Haiyan alone is estimated at over $13 billion. So the potential to use adaptation resources from the GCF to make upfront investments that will reduce the costs of climate change gives me hope. At least those people least responsible for causing climate change might someday get the support they need to thrive.

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